Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

January 19, 1968



THE PRESIDENT. I asked you to come here.

[1.] I had a rather extended visit with Secretary McNamara this morning. We reviewed a number of departmental matters, budget matters, and other matters that concerned the Defense Department, including the progress he has made on the budget and the statements that accompanied it, which would be related to it, as well as his expected time of departure.

We agreed that Mr. McNamara would leave sometime in February, not later than March 1st, depending on the progress he makes there.

I discussed with him again this morning, as I have several times before, his resignation and, since his resignation, his successor.

I considered four or five men that he suggested, as well as a number of other men suggested by myself and others.

I asked Mr. Clark Clifford to serve as Secretary of Defense this morning, and he has accepted. I intend to submit his name to the Senate at a very early date. The Senate being willing, he will be available to qualify when Mr. McNamara completes his present assignment.

Mr. McNamara has had a truly outstanding record of Government service. He has served as Secretary of Defense longer than any other man has ever served in that job. He has had 7 grueling years, but with a very highly satisfactory performance to two Presidents, and I think, generally, to the people of this country and to the people of other countries with whom he dealt.

I have never known a more competent public official, a more energetic or dedicated one.

It is with great regret to the President, everyone in the White House and in the Cabinet, that he will be assuming other duties. We are pleased that Washington is not losing him. He will not be far away to counsel with us when appropriate.

I think that is all I have to say. I will be glad to take any questions.


[2.] Q. What were the factors that pointed to Mr. Clifford?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, first he was very high on the recommendations of everyone who made recommendations to me, including Mr. McNamara.

Second, I have very intimately worked with him when he participated in the consolidation of the Army and the Navy and the Air Force, in the unification program, unifying the Department as an adviser of another President.

In 1949 I worked with him in connection with my duties with the Armed Services Committee on the amendments to the unification act after he had gotten the bill together that was passed earlier.

He was in Mr. Bundy's job, or what we might say Mr. Rostow now does,1 with the Defense Department during the Truman administration.

1Former Special Assistant to the President McGeorge Bundy and Special Assistant to the President Walt W. Rostow.

He was liaison with the Defense Department Secretary, Secretary Forrestal and later Secretary Johnson.2

2James V. Forrestal and Louis A. Johnson, former Secretaries of Defense.

He came into the service as a lieutenant (jg) and he went out as a captain. He is familiar with all the services.

President Kennedy appointed him as a member of a task force to study the Defense Department, its administration and its organization and its management, in 1960.

Following the Bay of Pigs, when the President set up a Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, one of the most important boards to be selected by the President, Mr. Killian 3 headed that Board, but Mr. Clifford was a member of it. When Dr. Killian got sick, I believe he recommended Mr. Clifford to be his successor. Mr. Clifford became Chairman of it. He was Chairman when I became President. I continued him in that capacity, as I did most of the men serving with President Kennedy.

3Dr. James R. Killian served as Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from May 5, 1961 to March 7, 1963.

He has been a very wise and prudent counselor to many Presidents, and certainly to me, in the field of defense, and in the field of diplomacy.

As Chairman of that Board, he had to work very closely with the State Department. Secretary Rusk considered him eminently qualified and one of the finest men who could be available for the assignment. He has traveled throughout the world in his capacity as adviser to the President and Chairman of this Board. He has been in the Far East and South Vietnam I believe three times in the recent years. He was my counselor at Manila.

When we were planning the democratic developments in South Vietnam that led to the election of the Constituent Assembly, the President and the Vice President, and the Members of Congress, he was there.

He has been a counselor on most of the important decisions made in many of the international fields from defense to strength to weapons to actions.

I think he is universally regarded by those with whom I have talked as being a man that the Government ought to have if we could get him.

We have had such a high type of servant in the Secretary of Defense that I think Mr. Clifford did not feel in a position to turn me down just "period" when I asked him to do it.

I made the decision finally today, although I had him under consideration since his name was first mentioned last August, and again in November.

I saw some squib that some speculative reporter wrote that indicated he might be under consideration for this assignment. I commented to him at a social affair one evening, "I understand you are a candidate for the Secretary of Defense." He flushed a little bit and said he was not a candidate; he was not.

But if the Senate is willing, he is going to be Secretary of Defense.

Q. Mr. President, occasionally a Cabinet officer comes over with an understanding of serving for a year or some specified time. Is that the case here?

THE PRESIDENT. No. We have not discussed the term. I asked him if he would accept the appointment. He cleared his throat, and I said, "I expect to announce your appointment. If you would like to talk to me about it beforehand, I would be glad to see you."

He said all right, he would come over. He came over and he talked to me. He is aware that he is going to be announced, but he is not aware of how long he will serve, nor am I.

Q. Mr. President, was he given time to discuss it with his wife?

THE PRESIDENT. If she is not in the beauty parlor; if her whereabouts are not unknown.

Q. Did you just talk with him?

THE PRESIDENT. I talked to him here today.

Q. Will there be any other changes in the Defense Department?

THE PRESIDENT. I am sure there will be changes from time to time in all the departments, but I don't have any that I am aware of at this moment.

Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and seventeenth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 3:27 p.m. on Friday, January 19, 1968. As printed above, this item follows the text of the Official White House Transcript.

Later the same day Mr. Clifford met with reporters at the White House in the office of George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President. The text of the news briefing is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 86).
A biographical sketch of Mr. Clifford was also released by the White House on January 19 (4 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 85).

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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