Thirty-five years ago, a Washington, D.C. grand jury took the extraordinary measure of flying out to California to hear testimony from a witness on matters related to the infamous Watergate break-in and cover-up. The witness was on the stand for 11 hours over the course of two days. And to this day, no one outside the few people who were there knows exactly what former President Richard Nixon said.
Now, Wisconsin historian Stanley Kutler, author of Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes and The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon, is suing to have the transcript of Nixon’s testimony released. Public Citizen, which is representing Kutler and four historical associations, petitioned Monday morning on Kutler’s behalf in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Years ago, Public Citizen teamed with Kutler to win release of the Watergate tapes, the secret recordings Nixon had made in the oval office.
“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. After 35 years, the reasons for releasing Mr. Nixon’s sworn testimony far outweigh any grounds for keeping sealed this important piece of history.”
While bits and pieces of what Nixon talked about have leaked out or been alluded to in news reports, little is known about what was said those two days in San Clemente other than that the disgraced president answered questions about the infamous 18.5-minutes gap in the tape recording of his conversation with H.R. Haldeman three days after the Watergate break-in and the extent of his involvement in altering transcripts of tape recordings that were turned over to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry, among other issues.