Q: So what in a sense you’re saying is that there are certain situations…where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.
NIXON: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.
Q: By definition.
NIXON: Exactly, exactly.
- Former President Richard Nixon in an interview by David Frost, 1977
Nixon expanded, in the same interview, on the view that the President can be above the law in some situations:
NIXON: Well, what I, at root I had in mind I think was perhaps much better stated by Lincoln during the War between the States. Lincoln said, and I think I can remember the quote almost exactly, he said, "Actions which otherwise would be unconstitutional, could become lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the Constitution and the Nation."
Now that's the kind of action I'm referring to. Of course in Lincoln's case it was the survival of the Union in wartime, it's the defense of the nation and, who knows, perhaps the survival of the nation.
Q: But there was no comparison was there, between the situation you faced and the situation Lincoln faced, for instance?
NIXON: This nation was torn apart in an ideological way by the war in Vietnam, as much as the Civil War tore apart the nation when Lincoln was president. Now it's true that we didn't have the North and the South—
Q: But when you said, as you said when we were talking about the Huston Plan, you know, "If the president orders it, that makes it legal", as it were: Is the president in that sense—is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that suggests the president is that far of a sovereign, that far above the law?
NIXON: No, there isn't. There's nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven't read every word, every jot and every title, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we're all talking about.