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Sept. 14, 2010

Historians Urge Court to Unseal Nixon’s 1975 Grand Jury Testimony

Former President’s Testimony Would Complete the Public Record About Watergate Saga, Missing 18.5 Minutes of Tape, More

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A key piece of Watergate history that remains shrouded in secrecy – former President Richard Nixon’s grand jury testimony of 1975 – should be made public, historical experts have told a court.

 In documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, history professor Stanley Kutler, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists explained the importance of the grand jury testimony to the historical record. Public Citizen is representing Mr. Kutler and four the groups.

 “Although Watergate and all that word has come to represent has been extensively studied and debated, President Nixon’s knowledge of the events and role in the cover-up remains a subject of speculation for historians, journalists, and others,” said Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group and lead attorney for the petitioners. “After 35 years, the reasons for releasing Mr. Nixon’s sworn testimony far outweigh any grounds for keeping sealed this important piece of history.”

 The request for the testimony to be made public is supported by a wide range of people, including John W. Dean III, former White House Counsel; David Dorsen, former assistant chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee; Barry Sussman, former D.C. editor of The Washington Post; Raymond Smock, former historian of the U.S. House of Representatives; Richard J. Davis, former assistant special prosecutor with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force; and several prominent historians.

During his testimony, Nixon answered questions about: 1) the infamous 18.5-minutes gap in the tape recording of his conversation with H.R. Haldeman three days after the Watergate break-in; 2) the extent of his involvement in altering transcripts of tape recordings that were turned over to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry; 3) his use of the IRS to harass political enemies; and 4) a $100,000 contribution from Howard Hughes.

In their papers, Kutler and the other petitioners explain that Nixon’s testimony should be made public because of the ongoing historical interest in Watergate and Nixon’s legacy. Courts in the past have opened grand jury testimony based on historical interest. Further, the concerns that support secrecy of grand jury records no longer apply to this 35-year-old material. The various Watergate investigations ended decades ago; Nixon and many other key players in the Watergate scandal are deceased; most of the key players in the scandal testified publicly under oath; and some information about the Watergate grand jury testimony has already been disclosed.

Watergate ignited a crisis of confidence in government and raised constitutional questions that tested the limits of executive power and the mettle of the democratic process itself. After leaving office, Nixon was called before a grand jury. He testified in California on June 23 and 24, 1975, before two members of a federal grand jury. His testimony was presented in Washington, D.C., to a full grand jury that was convened to investigate political espionage, illegal campaign contributions and other wrongdoing.

 “Without this transcript, the public record remains incomplete,” Zieve said.

The petition and the memorandum in support of it are available at http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=616.

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