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Judge orders Nixon’s secret Watergate testimony unsealed


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Judge orders Nixon’s secret Watergate testimony unsealed

By Reuters

Friday, July 29th, 2011 -- 2:10 pm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 36 years later, the secret grand jury testimony of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal was ordered released on Friday by a federal judge because of its significance in American history.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth granted a request by historian Stanley Kutler, who has written several books about Nixon and Watergate, and others to unseal the testimony given on June 23 and 24 in 1975.

Nixon was questioned about the political scandal during the 1970s that resulted from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington.

The scandal caused Nixon to leave office on August 9, 1974, the only resignation of aU.S. president. The scandal also resulted in the indictment, trial, conviction and imprisonment of a number of his top officials.

Lamberth ruled in the 15-page opinion that the special circumstances, especially the undisputed historical interest in Nixon's testimony, far outweighed the need to keep the records secret. Grand jury proceedings typically remain secret.

"Watergate significance in American history cannot be overstated," Lamberth wrote, adding that the scandal continues to attract both scholarly and public interest.

"The disclosure of President Nixon's grand jury testimony would likely enhance the existing historical record, foster scholarly discussion and improve the public's understanding of a significant historical event," he said.

The Obama administration's Justice Department had opposed releasing Nixon's testimony, citing the privacy interests of individuals named in the testimony, among other reasons.

But Lamberth said those privacy interests were minimal.

He said Nixon died 17 years ago, many other key figures likely to be mentioned were deceased and most of the surviving figures have written about Watergate, given interviews interviews or testified under oath about their involvement.

Nixon's grand jury transcript will not be released immediately because the government will have the opportunity to appeal. A Justice Department spokesman said government lawyers were reviewing the ruling.

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Judge: Time to unseal Nixon's Watergate testimony

By NEDRA PICKLER

Associated Press

July 29, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Thirty-six years after Richard Nixon testified to a grand jury about the Watergate break-in that drove him from office, a federal judge on Friday ordered the secret transcript made public.

But the 297 pages of testimony won't be available immediately, because the government gets time to decide whether to appeal.

The Obama administration opposed the transcript's release, chiefly to protect the privacy of people discussed during the ex-president's testimony who are still alive.

Nevertheless, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth agreed with historians who sued for release of the documents that the historical significance outweighs arguments for secrecy, because the investigations are long over and Nixon has been dead 17 years.

Nixon was interviewed behind closed doors near his California home for 11 hours over two days in June 1975, 10 months after resigning the presidency. Two grand jurors were flown in and the transcript was read to the rest of the panel sitting back in Washington. It was the first time a former U.S. president testified before a grand jury - Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to do so during the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

At the time of his testimony, Nixon could not be prosecuted for conduct related to Watergate because he had been pardoned by President Gerald Ford. Ten days after Nixon testified, the grand jury was dismissed without making any indictments based on what he told them.

The historians say the testimony could address ongoing debate over Nixon's knowledge of the break-in at Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate complex and his role in the cover-up.

"Nixon knew when you testified before a grand jury you exposed yourself to perjury, so I'm betting he told the truth," said University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley Kutler, who filed the lawsuit along with four historians' organizations. Kutler, author of "Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes," previously successfully sued to force the release of audio recordings Nixon secretly made in the Oval Office. "Now, what did he tell the truth about? I don't know."

Newspapers reported at the time of Nixon's testimony that he was questioned about the 18 1/2-minute gap in his Oval Office tapes, changes made to White House transcripts of the recordings, his administration's use of the Internal Revenue Service to harass his political enemies, and a $100,000 campaign contribution from billionaire Howard Hughes. But the details of what the president said have never leaked out.

Several Watergate figures filed declarations in support of the historians' petition, including Nixon's White House counsel John Dean, who served prison time for his role in the scandal. Dean wrote that Nixon's testimony covers topics that the president only vaguely discussed in his memoirs and his revelations to the grand jury would help stop "those wanting to twist and distort history."

In rejecting the Obama administration's arguments for privacy, Lamberth pointed out that most of the surviving Watergate figures have either written about it, given interviews or spoke under oath about their involvement in testimony that is already public. "The court is confident that disclosure will greatly benefit the public and its understanding of Watergate without compromising the tradition and objectives of grand jury secrecy," Lamberth wrote.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said Friday that government attorneys were reviewing the ruling.

Other courts have on occasion ordered the release of grand jury records because of their historical value, including those investigating espionage allegations against Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/29/3803447/judge-orders-release-of-nixon.html

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A welcome decision to release Nixon’s grand jury testimony

Washington Post

By Editorial, Published: August 5, 2011

IN 1975, FORMER President Richard M. Nixon spent 11 hours, over two days, providing testimony to a federal grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up. But some 36 years later, little is known about what he said.

Press reports have asserted that Nixon addressed the notorious 18½-minute gap in his taped White House conversation with former chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, as well as the administration’s alleged use of the Internal Revenue Service to harass political adversaries, among other topics. But certainty is not possible because the former president’s testimony remains under seal — off limits to the public, including historians and other academics.

That may soon change, thanks to a laudable July 29 decision by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Grand jury proceedings are typically kept secret — and with good reason. Such secrecy prevents harassment of grand jurors, and it prevents witnesses from changing their stories to fit accounts provided by others.

But judges have made exceptions. Federal courts in New York, for instance, ordered the release of grand jury material in the cases of accused spy Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed after being found guilty of espionage. In both cases, transcripts were made public some 50 years or more after the testimony was given. The courts concluded that the historical importance of the cases, the significant amount of time that had lapsed and the fact that the principals in the case were deceased justified such disclosures.

The same holds true in the Nixon case. The Justice Department opposed release, arguing that not enough time had passed since the testimony was given and expressing concern that making an exception in this case could set a dangerous precedent that could erode the integrity of grand jury proceedings in the future.

Neither argument is persuasive. A 36-year lag between Nixon’s testimony and possible release is more than sufficient to protect individuals’ privacy interests. Nixon has passed away, as have other major players; many who were involved in the scandal have testified publicly in congressional hearings or given media interviews or written books about the episode and their role in it. The formal Watergate investigation has long since been closed, yet public interest remains high.

In granting the request by Watergate scholar Stanley Kutler and several historical associations to unseal Nixon’s grand jury testimony, Judge Lamberth made clear that judges are only authorized to order grand jury disclosures in cases that involve “exceptional circumstances.” If there was ever a case that met this standard, it is one involving a former president of the United States who was called to testify under oath in a matter that brought the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

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A welcome decision to release Nixon’s grand jury testimony

The Washington Post

By Editorial, Published: August 5, 2011

IN 1975, FORMER President Richard M. Nixon spent 11 hours, over two days, providing testimony to a federal grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up. But some 36 years later, little is known about what he said.

Press reports have asserted that Nixon addressed the notorious 18½-minute gap in his taped White House conversation with former chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, as well as the administration’s alleged use of the Internal Revenue Service to harass political adversaries, among other topics. But certainty is not possible because the former president’s testimony remains under seal — off limits to the public, including historians and other academics.

That may soon change, thanks to a laudable July 29 decision by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Grand jury proceedings are typically kept secret — and with good reason. Such secrecy prevents harassment of grand jurors, and it prevents witnesses from changing their stories to fit accounts provided by others.

But judges have made exceptions. Federal courts in New York, for instance, ordered the release of grand jury material in the cases of accused spy Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed after being found guilty of espionage. In both cases, transcripts were made public some 50 years or more after the testimony was given. The courts concluded that the historical importance of the cases, the significant amount of time that had lapsed and the fact that the principals in the case were deceased justified such disclosures.

The same holds true in the Nixon case. The Justice Department opposed release, arguing that not enough time had passed since the testimony was given and expressing concern that making an exception in this case could set a dangerous precedent that could erode the integrity of grand jury proceedings in the future.

Neither argument is persuasive. A 36-year lag between Nixon’s testimony and possible release is more than sufficient to protect individuals’ privacy interests. Nixon has passed away, as have other major players; many who were involved in the scandal have testified publicly in congressional hearings or given media interviews or written books about the episode and their role in it. The formal Watergate investigation has long since been closed, yet public interest remains high.

In granting the request by Watergate scholar Stanley Kutler and several historical associations to unseal Nixon’s grand jury testimony, Judge Lamberth made clear that judges are only authorized to order grand jury disclosures in cases that involve “exceptional circumstances.” If there was ever a case that met this standard, it is one involving a former president of the United States who was called to testify under oath in a matter that brought the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

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