Public Citizen succeeds in unsealing President Nixon’s grand jury testimony

The unsealing of the 1975 transcript of President Nixon’s grand jury testimony sheds light on the Watergate scandal for the general public.

  • 1975 Year in which President Nixon gave his infamous testimony before a grand jury investigating the Watergate scandal.
  • 36 Number of years President Nixon’s grand jury testimony remained sealed
  • 11 Number of hours Nixon testified before the grand jury.

In 1975, former President Nixon gave two days of testimony to a grand jury investigating the Watergate scandal and related matters. The testimony covered the infamous 18.5-minute gap in the tape recording of a conversation between Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Halderman, Nixon’s involvement in altering transcripts of tape recordings that were turned over to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry, the use of the IRS to harass political enemies and a $100,000 contribution from Howard Hughes.

In 2010, Public Citizen filed a petition with the U.S. District Court of Colombia to unseal the transcript of Nixon’s testimony on behalf of Watergate historian Stanley Kutler and four associations of historians and archivists. Although grand jury records are routinely sealed, Public Citizen told the court that Nixon’s testimony should be unsealed because of the extraordinary historical interest in Watergate and Nixon’s legacy, and because the concerns that support secrecy of grand jury records no longer applied to the decades-old material.

We argued that Watergate was the benchmark political scandal against which all others are measured. As legal history, Watergate generated U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding presidential power and the relationship between the branches of government. Therefore, the testimony needed to be made public.

In July 2011, the U.S. District Court of Colombia granted the petition, over the U.S. Department of Justice’s objection. The court’s order became final in September when the government did not appeal. Now, in an important victory for the historical record, the transcript of Nixon’s testimony is available to the general public.

The release of this testimony is great news for historians and anyone interested in the history of the Nixon administration. This key piece of history will be a valuable addition to the historical record. Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group and lead counsel in the case

Highlights

  • Richard Nixon was the first president to testify before a grand jury.
  • Public Citizen asked a court to unseal the transcript of that testimony so that historians and the public could read this important piece of history.
  • Public Citizen petitioned the court on behalf of Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists.
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