431. Memorandum From the Counsel to the President (McPherson) to President Johnson1

I saw Senator Mansfield this morning. After going over the reasons for Secretary Rusk not testifying,2 I said “This is really a procedural matter. The President knows how you feel about Vietnam. But he hopes you can support him on this procedural question.” He said, “All right, I’ll try to support him. I think he’s wrong, but I’ll try to support him. But you ought to be aware that this could develop into a Constitutional crisis.” He said he thought the Gore motion would “probably” fail; not enough Senators were worked up over it, although Morse, Gore and others will doubtless talk about it on the Senate Floor.

I talked to the Secretary later. The question was, whether he would decline on the merits, or temporize by saying that he would be out of the country beginning Sunday.3 We decided he should reply on the merits, and I believe he plans to send a letter to Fulbright today.4

Harry C. McPherson, Jr.5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Office Files of Harry McPherson, Rusk Testimony. No classification marking.
  2. On November 30 Fulbright sent Rusk a letter suggesting that the Secretary participate in public hearings. (Ibid.)
  3. December 10.
  4. In the letter to Fulbright, December 7 (sent the next day after approval by the President), Rusk refused to testify in open session, preferring instead to address the Vietnam issue in executive session. (Johnson Library, Office Files of Harry McPherson, Rusk Testimony) In commenting on the letter in a memorandum transmitting it to the President, McPherson noted that “the question is whether the Secretary just waffles it now—since he is going to be out of town for the balance of the session—or answers it directly. I have been inclined both ways; I’d like to avoid giving Morse and Gore ammunition with which to tie up the Senate with long ’Constitutional’ speeches on whether the Executive Branch must testify in open session. At the same time, a ’delaying’ answer would suggest that he might go up for an open session in January. I think it’s probably better to bite the bullet now rather than to give that impression. Rusk agrees, and hence this letter.” (Ibid.)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.