By Anne Lowe
PUBLIC INFORMATION Four historians organizations have filed a petition with a U.S. District Court to unseal the transcript of former U.S. President Richard Nixons testimony before a federal grand jury in 1975, taken through interviews at his San Clemente residence.
The testimony was a result of the grand jury's investigation into Nixons involvement in the Watergate scandal, where five men were arrested for breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972. Historians who filed the petition believe Nixons interview transcript will help address ongoing debate over Nixons knowledge of the break-in, the Associated Press reports.
Courts have on occasion ordered the release of grand jury records because of their historical impact, including those investigating espionage allegations against Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
But there is no precedent for releasing grand jury records on historical grounds in the District of Columbia court, said Public Citizen's Allison Zieve, the attorney representing the petitioners. Justice Department officials are reviewing the petition, said spokesman Charles Miller, so it remains unclear whether they will fight it.
Newspapers reported at the time of Nixon 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 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."
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."