ORLANDO, Fla. -- President Nixon, responding to more than an hour of questioning by newspaper editors, declared Saturday night, that "I'm no crook" and he would prove it by publishing evidence of his innocence in the wide-ranging Watergate scandal.
In a nervous but self-assured defense of his conduct before national television cameras and 400 Associated Press managing editors in a hotel ballroom at Disney World, Nixon said:
"I want the facts out because the facts will prove that the President is telling the truth."
Nixon flew to the 27,000-acre entertainment resort from his home in Key Biscayne and submitted to an hour and six minutes of questions by members of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, the subjects ranging from the Watergate tapes to his personal finances, the energy crisis, the new special Watergate prosecutor and the acknowledged bugging of his brother, Donald.
During the news conference, Nixon said:
-- He would make available his own notes to U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica of his conversations with former White House counsel John W, Dean Ill to establish that he knew nothing of the Watergate cover-up before last March 21. He said it was a "very great disappointment" some conversations were not recorded because of what he said was a faulty, unsophisticated White House taping system.
-- The new special Watergate prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, would be fully independent and immune to dismissal without the agreement of the House and Senate leadership of both parties.
-- His brother, Donald, an executive of the Marriott Corp., "knew and approved of" the government's electronic monitoring of his telephone conversations because they might have involved "others who might be trying to get him to use improper influence" in behalf of foreign interests.
-- The break-in of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office was "a stupid ... illegal thing to do" and he had no advance" knowledge of it. But he said it came at a time when there were leaks of information damaging to the national security, including one unexplained incident that even the leadership of the Senate Watergate Committee had agreed not to pursue.
-- He never profitted from government service, either on "his donation of official papers for the National Archives or from stock or real estate transactions.
"I want to say to the television networks that I have made my mistakes," he said: "But in all my years in public life, I have never profitted. In all my years in public life, I have never obstructed justice.
"But I welcome this kind of examination because the people wonder if their president is a crook. I'm not a crook. I've earned every cent I've got."
He ducked a question about whether the nation faced gas rationing in the imminent future. But he suggested that if Congress could find the time to "get away from these other diversions" and pass his energy measures; along with other steps to make the nation self-sufficient in energy by 1980, gas rationing would not be necessary.
The energy question, which came after 45 minutes, was the first issue he was asked to address that did not deal with Watergate or related scandals. And at the end of the scheduled hour, Nixon brushed aside a suggestion by a representative of the Gannett newspapers in Rochester, N.Y., that his time was up.
The President took six additional minutes to address the controversy over his administration's raising of dairy price supports, allegedly in exchange for milk industry offers of campaign contributions.
Nixon said he approved a price support increase under tremendous pressure from Congress -- they "put a gun to our heads," he said -- against the advice of former Agriculture Secretary Clifford Hardin.
As before, the president asserted that existing White House tapes and other documents being turned over to the federal courts -- which possibly will be made available to the public -- would establish that he knew nothing of the Watergate break-in in advance and that he rejected subsequent suggestions that he might offer executive clemency or silence money to the Watergate defendants.
He said he would soon make public a long list of documents supporting his claims of innocence, including a detailed explanation of his personal finances.
He conceded there were "mistakes" in his re-election campaign last year, but that he was "trying to run the country and so was too busy to run the politics."
Nixon dealt at length with two crucial Watergate conversations, one with Dean on April 15, 1973, the other with former Attorney General John N. Mitchell on June 20, 1972 -- three days after the Watergate break-in.