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Nixon also declared in his statement that he would immediately suspend any member of the Executive Branch of Government who is indicted, and would fire anyone who is convicted. Any action short of that, of course, would be outrageous. He said that no past or present member of his Administration should be granted any immunity from prosecution. That, too, was no great concession, and could even be regarded as protective of high officials. Immunity is a device normally used by courts only to help convict important figures in a crime by getting minor participants to turn state's evidence on the promise that they will not be prosecuted.
As his reason for speaking out now, Nixon said that "serious charges" had come to his attention on March 21 and that he then began "intensive new inquiries into this whole matter." This investigation and the renewed efforts of the Department of Justice, he said, had lately shown that "there have been major developments in the case concerning which it would be improper to be more specific now, except to say that real progress has been made in finding the truth."
Besieged by newsmen to explain the President's statement, White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler said that March 21 was about the time that convicted Wiretapper James McCord wrote a celebrated letter to Judge Sirica. In it, McCord charged that unnamed officials had brought pressure on the arrested burglars to plead guilty, and that persons not yet indicted had been involved in the conspiracy. But Ziegler could not detail what kind of new investigation Nixon had made on his own. Justice Department sources also said that they were unaware of any new presidential inquiry. As late as March 26, in fact, Nixon had repeated, through Ziegler, his "absolute and total confidence" in White House Counsel John W. Dean III, who had conducted an earlier White House investigation.
The belief was widespread in Washington that what Nixon's "investigation" amounted to was merely the discovery that some of his political associates were likely to be indicted. Indeed, he was told just that by Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Henry Petersen, chief of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, in a long conference on Sunday, April 15. Precisely whom they cited as most apt to be named by the grand jury was not revealed. But TIME has learned that five men are priority targets of the jury. They are:
John Mitchell, former Attorney General, who headed the Nixon re-election committee at the time of the Watergate arrests and quit just two weeks later.
John Dean, the chief White House counsel.
Jeb Stuart Magruder, Mitchell's deputy on the Nixon re-election committee and now a Commerce Department official.
Fred LaRue, another assistant to Mitchell on the campaign committee and a former White House aide.
Gordon Strachan, a former assistant to H.R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff.
Indictments are somewhat less likely but nevertheless possible, according to