A group of historians is asking the Washington federal district court to exercise its “inherent supervisory authority” to unseal the 1975 grand jury testimony of former President Richard Nixon.
Historian Stanley Kutler, the American Historical Association, American Society for Legal History, Organization of American Historians, and Society of American Archivists filed a petition yesterday seeking the transcript of Nixon’s testimony on June 23 and June 25, 1975, and related documents of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. The records are at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Md.
“Today, Watergate continues to captivate historians and the public alike,” writes the historians’ counsel, Allison Zieve of Public Citizen Litigation Group, in the petition, In Re Petition of Stanley Kutler. “Despite the many books, films, plays, and television programs that have addressed the scandal and its players, unanswered questions remain. New theories and revised narratives are proposed. Mr. Nixon’s grand jury testimony continues to be a source of speculation for Nixon scholars and others.”
Less than one year after he resigned the presidency, Nixon testified before two members of a Washington, D.C.-based federal grand jury and several staff attorneys of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. The testimony was taken by deposition near Nixon’s home in San Clemente, Calif. “Never before had a former president given grand jury testimony, and never before had a court authorized a select number of grand jurors to travel outside their jurisdiction to take testimony,” states the petition.
In their petition, the historians say that the Nixon testimony “at minimum” covered the famous 18 1⁄2-minute gap on a White House tape recording of a June 20, 1972 conversation between Nixon and Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman; the alteration of White House tape transcripts that were submitted to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry; the extent to which the Nixon administration used the IRS to harass Nixon’s political enemies; and the $100,000 campaign contribution from billionaire Howard Hughes to Nixon’s close friend Charles G. “Bebe” Rebozo.
“In cases of particular importance, historical interest may qualify as a special circumstance justifying release of grand jury records,” Zieve argues in the petition, noting that in 2008 the federal district court in the Southern District of New York ordered release of the entire grand jury records pertaining to the indictments of Alger Hiss and of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, respectively, in light of the historical impact of those cases.
“Today, Watergate is history,” she adds. “Release of the testimony at issue cannot legitimately be said to threaten national stability or security. But it can further understanding of the events that shattered and forever changed the public’s view of government, and contribute to scholarship aimed at deciphering the Watergate story and the constitutional questions that Watergate brought to the forefront and that have recurred since, without resolution.”
The petition includes declarations of support for release of the transcripts from Nixon and Watergate scholars, such as Rutgers University Prof. David Greenberg, Wayne State University Prof. Emeritus Melvin Small, University of Maryland Prof. Keith Olson, and historian Rick Perlstein.
The petition is also supported by, among others, author and former White House Counsel John Dean III; former Assistant Chief Counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee David Dorsen; Editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism Barry Sussman; Nixon Tapes Project Editor with the Presidential Recordings Project at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Public Affairs Kenneth Hughes; Director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies Raymond Smock, and former assistant special prosecutor with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force Richard Davis.
The petition and supporting materials can be found here.