For eleven hours on June 23 and 24, 1975, President Nixon, ten months past his resignation and living in San Clemente, appeared before two members of a Federal grand jury and staff prosecutors of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and, under oath, answered questions about the scandal that brought down his presidency. This was the first time that any President had testified before a grand jury, and at the time, newspapers and magazines across the country devoted many a column inch to speculating about what Nixon might have said. And many an effort was made by journalists to get behind the traditional seal of secrecy involved in such testimony. However, for the last thirty-five years, RN’s testimony has remained sealed, along with other materials connected with it, and has for years been kept at the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland.
But an effort is now being made to unseal this testimony. Yesterday, Stanley Kutler, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, well known for his many legal battles to obtain access to White House tapes and other Nixon-era materials, petitioned the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to have the grand jury testimony and other WSPF documents released. Professor Kutler is joined in this effort by four organizations (the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists); a number of fellow historians who have often written about RN and his Presidency (including Nixonland author Rick Perlstein and David Greenberg of Nixon’s Shadow fame); journalist Barry Sussman who covered Watergate for the Washington Post; David Dorsen, who served as assistant chief counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee; former WHSF assistant special prosecutor Richard Davis….and John W. Dean III, who is at work on yet another book about Watergate and is evidently seeking some fresh tidbits for his more than twice-told tales.
Professor Kutler et al’s petition is at this link. And here are the various declarations filed by those seeking the release of the testimony. (It includes a pocket history of Watergate by Kutler, complete with a sizable bibliography and list of various movies, plays, TV documentaries about the events of 1972-1974. Also featured are photocopies of old articles about RN’s testimony from Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, with some Jack Anderson columns for lagniappe.)
Update: The Associated Press has published an article about Professor Kutler’s petition, which concludes with an eminent journalist’s argument against releasing the transcript:
But not all Nixon historians support release of his testimony. James Rosen, author of “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate,” says not enough time has passed as it had in the Hiss case when the main figures were long dead.
“In this case, President Nixon’s chief accuser — John Dean — remains very much alive,” said Rosen, a correspondent for Fox News. “The court should wait until all participants in Watergate have died before making public the testimony that President Nixon gave willingly and with the assurance that it would, like all grand jury testimony, remain sealed.”