U.S. District Chief Judge William B. Bryant temporarily blocked the government yesterday from reviewing a box of materials in its custody belonging to former President Nixon.
U.S. protocol chief Evan S. Dobelle had asked the National Archives to make an inventory of foreign gifts to Nixon while he was President, and to begin the inventory by reviewing one box in which records of such transactions are kept.
Dobelle said in a letter to the archives that he was asking for the review because of "allegedly unresolved questions concerning the exact location of foreign gifts" to Nixon. He said that he did not want to "further impugn the integrity" of Nixon or his family, but that he felt an obligation to check the allegations.
Nixon's attorney, R. Stan Mortenson, said the search should be postponed because questions remain about how the Nixon material should be handled by the government.
Mortenson said a recent Supreme Court decision upholding a law giving the Nixon materials to the government expressly left open the issue of the validity of regulations under which the documents can be reviewed. Mortenson made clear that Nixon plans to challenge the regulations as inadequate.
Justice Department attorney Stephen H. Frank argued that the Supreme Court ruling did allow for initial searches of the material by archivists and that there was no reason for further delay. He said that questions about the foreign gifts had been raised as early as three years ago, but that the protocol office had been precluded from reviewing the material because of the earlier suit over the constitutionality of the law.
Bryant said he saw no urgency about the search, and ordered that it be blocked until the regular judge to whom the case is as signed - U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson - is available to hear it. A hearing was tentatively scheduled for Aug. 24.