Historians ask court to unseal Nixon grand jury testimony

By Spencer S. Hsu
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 1:51 PM

Historians on Tuesday petitioned a federal court to make public former president Richard Nixon's testimony to a federal grand jury in 1975, calling it "a key piece of Watergate history that remains shrouded in secrecy."

The petition, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia - the court that presided over the Watergate investigation - was brought by Wisconsin University Law School professor emeritus Stanley Kutler and four American historical societies, all represented by Public Citizen.

"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 coverup remains a subject of speculation for historians, journalists and others," said Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which is representing the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists.

"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 groups say that courts have opened other grand jury testimony of historical interest and that secrecy concerns that normally prohibit such releases no longer apply. Nixon and many other central participants in the Watergate scandal have died, testified publicly under oath, or provided information to the grand jury that subsequently became public.

Within a year of leaving office, Nixon testified on June 23 and 24, 1975, before two members of a federal grand jury convened to investigate political espionage, illegal campaign contributions and other crimes. The transcript is stored with the National Archives.

According to the historians, Nixon answered questions about the 18.5-minute gap in the tape recording of his June 20, 1972, conversation with H.R. Haldeman three days after the Watergate break-in; the alteration of White House tape transcripts turned over to the House Judiciary Committee; his use of the IRS to harass political enemies; and a $100,000 contribution from Howard Hughes to Nixon friend Charles G. "Bebe" Rebozo.

In 2008, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York released grand jury records pertaining to the indictments of Alger Hiss and of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg because of their historical importance.

The request was supported by figures including former Nixon White House counsel John W. Dean III; David Dorsen, then assistant chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee; Barry Sussman, former D.C. editor of The Washington Post; and Richard J. Davis, former assistant special prosecutor with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.

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