(13 of 13)
Dean: I have given the facts as I know them and I don't... I would rather be excused from drawing my own conclusion on that at this point in time.
Ervin declared pointedly that in "the experience of the English-speaking race" the only reliable way of testing the credibility of a witness is through interrogation. The committee almost certainly cannot compel Nixon to testify, the constitutional issue of whether a President can be subpoenaed being murky (TIME. June 18). But Senator Baker pointed out that Woodrow Wilson, rather than appear before a congressional committee, invited the committee to meet with him,* and Weicker recalled that a Senate committee during the Civil War had decided to investigate whether Mary Todd Lincoln was a "disloyalist." Then Weicker read from Carl Sandburg's moving account of how that earlier committee's chairman perceived the episode.
"At the foot of the committee table, solitary, his hat in his hand, Abraham Lincoln stood ... The President had not been asked to come before the committee, nor was it suspected that he had information that we were to investigate reports, which, if true, fastened treason upon his family in the White House. At last, the mourning corpus spoke, slowly, with a depth of sorrow in his voice: 'I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, appear of my own volition before this committee of the Senate to say that I, of my own knowledge, know that it is untrue that any of my family hold treasonable communication with the enemy.'
"Having attested this, he went away as silent and solitary as he had come. We sat for some moments speechless and, by tacit agreement, no word being spoken, the committee dropped all consideration of the rumors."
It remains to be seen whether Richard Nixon will elect to emulate the first Republican President and come before the Ervin committee, "solitary, his hat in his hand," to answer the charges about Watergate. It would certainly require more than a simple, solemn declaration of his innocence. The scene is difficult to imagine, to be sure, but in the end it may become the only way to restore any degree of public trust in his presidency.
—Wilson submitted to three hours of committee questioning about the Treaty of Versailles.