A federal judge has ordered the release of nearly 300 hundred pages of President Richard M. Nixon’s 1975 testimony before a Watergate grand jury. Judge, Royce C. Lamberth III of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote, “ The special circumstances presented here—namely, undisputed historical interest in the requested records—far outweigh the need to maintain the secrecy of the records.”
The Obama administration had opposed unsealing the records based on privacy concerns for those named in the testimony and their families. Judge Lamberth rejected that argument stating, “in the event that the requested records are unsealed NARA (the National Archives and Records Administration) would review the testimony and its associated materials for privacy concerns.”
The grand jury records will not be released immediately. The Justice Department is reviewing Judge Lamberth’s ruling and will decide whether to appeal.
Watergate historian Stanley I. Kutler, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists had filed a suit asking the federal court to unseal the transcript of President Richard M. Nixon’s grand jury testimony from June 23 and 24, 1975. Nixon testified in California for eleven hours before two members of the grand jury and attorneys. The full transcript was later read to the remaining members of the grand jury back in Washington, D.C.
Since Nixon had been pardoned by President Gerald Ford in 1974, he could not have been prosecuted by the grand jury for any conduct related to the Watergate break-in and cover up. However, Nixon could have been indicted on perjury charges if he lied to the grand jury under oath.
Kutler told the New York Times that Nixon’s grand jury testimony was “a rare opportunity to hear him — what should I say? — unplugged. There are no aides, there are no lawyers, there are no spin
doctors.” With the possible penalty of perjury over his head, Professor Kutler said, “My guess is he told those people the truth.”
Judge Lamberth noted that press accounts at the time of Nixon’s appearance before the grand jury indicate that the testimony covered at least four topics: (1) the 18½-minute gap in a White House tape recording of a conversation between President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman; (2) the alteration of White House tape transcripts submitted to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry; (3) the extent to which the Nixon Administration used the IRS to harass political enemies; and (4) the $100,000 payment from billionaire Howard Hughes to President Nixon’s friend, Charles “Bebe” Rebozo.