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Nixon Watergate Testimony Unsealed

William Kelly

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Watergate testimony unsealed

Presidential library also releasing thousands of documents, oral histories

CALVIN WOODWARD, NANCY BENACsourceAP.gifSecret Nixon Watergate testimony unsealed - politics - More politics - msnbc.com

WASHINGTONRichard Nixon's grand jury testimony about the Watergate scandal that destroyed his presidency is finally coming to light.Four months after a judge ordered the June 1975 records unsealed, the government'sNixon Presidential Library was making them available online Thursday. Historians hoped that the testimony would form Nixon's most truthful and thorough account of the circumstances that led to his extraordinary resignation 10 months earlier under threat of impeachment.

"This is Nixon unplugged," said historian Stanley Kutler, a principal figure in the lawsuit that pried open the records. Still, he said, "I have no illusions. Richard Nixon knew how to dodge questions with the best of them. I am sure that he danced, skipped, around a number of things."

Nixon was interviewed near his California home for 11 hours over two days, when a pardon granted by his successor, Gerald Ford, protected him from prosecution for any past crimes. Despite that shield, he risked consequences for perjury if he lied under oath.

It was the first time an ex-president had testified before a grand jury and it is rare for any grand jury testimony to be made public. Historians won public access to the transcript over the objections of the Obama administration, which argued in part that too many officials from that era are still alive for secret testimony involving them to be made public.

The library is also releasing thousands of pages of other Watergate-era documents, several oral histories from that time and 45 minutes of recordings made by Nixon with a dictating machine.

The recordings include his dictated recollections of an odd episode late one night in May 1970 when Nixon impulsively had the Secret Service take him to the Lincoln Memorial so he could meet anti-war protesters there. He lingered with the astonished crowd and, according to accounts of that time, asked the protesters to "keep it peaceful. Have a good time in Washington, and don't go away bitter."

Disclosure a public benefit

On the grand jury testimony, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sided with the historians in his ruling in July. He decided that with the investigation long over, Nixon dead for 17 years and most of the surviving Watergate figures having written or talked about the scandal at length, the historical importance of the transcript outweighed arguments for secrecy. "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," he wrote.

One of the topics covered with Nixon in the grand jury probe was the famous 18 1/2-minute gap in a tape recording of a June 20, 1972, meeting between the president and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. The meeting came three days after the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex by burglars linked to Nixon's re-election committee.Even so, certain portions of the testimony that deal with people still living or that are considered still relevant to national security will remain classified for now, possibly to come out after further review, said the National Archives, which operates the Nixon library and 12 other presidential libraries.

The questions of what Nixon knew and when were at the core of the investigation of the Watergate cover-up that ultimately implicated the president and brought him down.

Kutler expressed doubt Wednesday that people will learn much more about Watergate from the new records. "The grand jury after that testimony had a chance to sit and indict but they did not," he said, "so I don't expect it to be that important." But he said the opening of grand jury records is a milestone by itself, "another precedent for opening up secretiveness in public life."

Edited by William Kelly
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Nov 10, 12:55 PM EST

Nixon shed no light on tape gap to grand jury


Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In long-secret testimony, Richard Nixon swore to grand jurors that the famous gap in a White House tape was merely an accident.

The 18 1/2 missing minutes of a conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff were considered crucial in determining the president's role in covering up the Watergate scandal that drove him from office. Under oath, after he left office, he was no help to investigators probing what was said during the gap.

The National Archives and its Nixon Presidential Library released a transcript of the testimony Thursday, a rare look inside grand jury proceedings.

Nixon told grand jurors that in his view, it was simply an accident that some of the tape got erased. He claimed "I practically blew my stack" when he found out how much.

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Newly Released Transcripts Show a Bitter and Cynical Nixon in ’75

The New York Times


November 10, 2011

For 11 hours of secret grand jury testimony 36 years ago, Richard M. Nixon, a disgraced former president, fenced with prosecutors over his role in the Watergate scandals, bemoaned politics as a dirty business played by both sides and testily — as he described his own demeanor — suggested he was the victim of a special prosecutor’s office loaded with Democrats.

The testimony, which Nixon presumably thought would always remain secret, was released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., on Thursday in response to an order by a judge. The transcripts offered a remarkable portrait of Nixon after he left office: bitter at his disgrace and cynical about politics. He presented himself as a victim of governmental abuses by his enemies during his long career in politics, and said that prosecutors, with an eye to ingratiating themselves with the Washington media “and the Georgetown set,” were out to destroy him.

“In politics, some pretty rough tactics are used,” he said. “We deplore them all.”

At one point, as he denied that his White House had engaged in anything out of the ordinary, he spoke with grudging admiration of what he said were the hardball tactics used against him by the Kennedy White House, asserting that it had directed the I.R.S. and other government agencies to discredit him as he ran for governor of California.

“They were pretty smart, I guess,” he said. “Rather than using a group of amateur Watergate bugglers, burglars — well they were bunglers — they used the F.B.I., used the I.R.S. and used it directly by their own orders against, in one instance, a man who had been vice president of the United States, running for governor.”

By the time Nixon appeared at the grand jury, on June 23 and 24 of 1975, he had, by virtue of his pardon by Gerald R. Ford, immunity from any crimes he had committed, though he was still subject to perjury charges based on what he said to this grand jury. Nixon, a lawyer, repeatedly answered questions in a hedged and clipped manner, often saying he did not recall conversations, some of them just two years old.

“I never recall any income tax return; I never recall seeing any result of any of this done,” he said.

Nixon repeatedly reminded his questioners that he had been preoccupied with grave matters of state, including the war in Vietnam. He seemed aware of how much he was claiming a failure of memory. “I want the grand jurors to understand that when I say I don’t recognize something, it isn’t because I am trying want to duck a question,” he said.

Stanley J. Kutler, a historian whose years of litigation helped lead to the release of the material, said he expected no shocking revelations from Nixon’s testimony. But the hours of Nixon talking and sparring are a window on the personality of the 37th president.

“If you know the voice of Richard Nixon, it’s a virtuoso performance, from the awkward attempts at humor to the moments of self-pity,” said Mr. Kutler, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s just terrific stuff.”

In the course of his testimony, Nixon appeared to flatly deny accusations that the White House had used the I.R.S. to try to discredit a sitting chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence O’Brien, and that he had an enemies list. Tim Naftali, the director of Mr. Nixon’s library, noted that in the Watergate exhibit on display there, there are tapes in which Nixon is heard ordering the use of tax audits against opponents and assembling an enemies list.

“The grand jury testimony sheds more light on President Nixon’s personality and character than it does on the remaining puzzles of Watergate,” Mr. Naftali said. “Even under the protections of grand jury secrecy, which was inviolate at that point, the president, it appears, was unwilling to be more forthright about his role in what the House Judiciary Committee determined were abuses of government power.”

Mr. Naftali noted that even with the protections of the grand jury testimony, Nixon did not answer what has been one of the biggest outstanding questions from the Watergate scandal: The reason for the 18 ½-minute gap in a tape recorded in the Oval Office.”

The distinctive Nixonian blend of pugnaciousness and self-pity comes through clearly in the 297 pages. Prosecutors’ tape experts were “these clowns.” He refers to G. Gordon Liddy, who headed the White House plumbers, as “a very bright young man in one way, very stupid in others.”

At another point, Nixon asserted that “as a result of my orders, and I gave them directly, that never to my knowledge was anybody in my responsibility for heckling” George McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic opponent in 1972.

“Now, actually my decision was not all that altruistic, to be quite honest,” Nixon said. “My decision was based on the fact that I didn’t think it would do any good. Why martyr the poor fellow? He was having enough trouble.”

Nixon even directed some humor at himself, as he recalled telling Alexander M. Haig Jr., to look into the 18 ½-minute gap on the White House tapes. “I said to him, ‘Let’s find out how this damn thing happened,’ ” Nixon said. “I am sorry, I wasn’t supposed to use profanity. You have enough on the tapes.”

Nixon returns again and again to the notion that he was singled out for conduct that was common in politics and public life.

He said he was the target of eavesdropping not just by Democrats but by the F.B.I.

“The F.B.I. was at one point directed to bug my plane,” he said, and J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. director, “once told me that they did.”

Despite the decades that have passed, some passages were redacted because they contained still-classified information. Nixon told prosecutors that “only if there is an absolute guarantee that there will not be disclosure of what I say, I will reveal for the first time information with regard to why wiretaps were proposed, information which, if it is made public, will be terribly damaging to the United States.” But his disclosure appears to have been cut from the transcript.

In a ruling last July in historians’ litigation over the Nixon archives, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District Court in Washington said he believed that the historical importance of Nixon’s testimony justified a rare exception to the standard secrecy of grand jury records.

Nixon often flashed his disdain for the prosecutors, whether he was belittling the way they asked their questions or accusing them of being partisan. “You can play that trick all, all day,” Nixon admonished the prosecutor. “We can take all day on that. Ask the question properly.”

“I am not unaware that the vast majority of people working in the special prosecutor’s office did not support me for president,” he said.

Ian Lovett and John Schwartz contributed reporting.

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