Nixon testimony may see daylight, and it’s about time

Friday, July 29, 2011

After 36 years, we might get to hear what President Richard Nixon told the grand jury that investigated the Watergate scandal that brought him down. Legal Times reports that a federal judge has ordered the release of the 297-page transcript.

It’s about time. It should have been “time” 35 years ago.

According to Legal Times, “Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the U.S. Justice Department, which fought to keep the material secret to maintain the privacy of witnesses.”

Privacy of witnesses? Is that the best the government could come up with to justify secrecy of such magnitude and duration? We’re talking about a president of the United States. Who resigned in disgrace. We’re talking about testimony given 36 years ago.

As Judge Lamberth said, any privacy infringements caused by disclosure of the transcript would be “minimal.” Many of those involved in and possibly named in the testimony are dead. Nixon has been dead 17 years. Not to mention that, if you were involved in some way in Watergate, should you expect privacy?

“The disclosure of President Nixon’s grand jury testimony would likely enhance the existing historical record, foster further scholarly discussion, and improve the public’s understanding of a significant historical event,” Lamberth said in his decision.

Indeed. Everyone has the right to know, as the Watergate-era phrase goes, what Nixon knew, when he knew it, and what he told the grand jury. Was he aware of the plan to break into Democratic Party headquarters in June 1972? If not, what was his part in covering it up?

These are major historical questions that ought to have steamrolled any piddling concerns over privacy shortly after Nixon gave his testimony in 1975.

“History is more or less bunk,” Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford famously said. In this case we might say the same about privacy.

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