Newly Released Testimony Is Vintage Nixon The National Archives has released President Nixon's long-secret grand jury testimony in the Watergate scandal from 1975. In it, the former president is manipulative, self-pitying and as unrevealing as possible.

Newly Released Testimony Is Vintage Nixon

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Guy Raz. The National Archives today released President Nixon's long secret grand jury testimony in the Watergate scandal. The testimony came after Mr. Nixon had been named an unindicted coconspirator, resigned and was then pardoned for criminal abuses of government power.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has been perusing the nearly 300 pages and has this report.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: From the get-go, the testimony is vintage Nixon: manipulative, self-pitying and as un-revelatory as possible. Tim Naftali is director of the Nixon Presidential Library and curator of the library's Watergate collection.

TIM NAFTALI: He's a hostile witness. He's not offering any new material.

TOTENBERG: From the opening of his testimony, Mr. Nixon is in filibuster mode. He makes a lengthy opening statement, covering everything from foreign policy to his contention that he can't be expected to remember things that go back two to four years.

And, remember, he doesn't. Over and over, he says he can't recall. Faced with the transcript of an Oval Office recording in which he ordered documents destroyed, he says, the references to destruction are mystifying to me. I can't recall directing that they be destroyed.

The Nixon Library's Naftali says that other assertions also flatly contradict clear-cut evidence. Along with the grand jury testimony release by the archives today, the Nixon Library also released presidential tape recording transcripts previously kept secret. For instance, there's a tape recorded conversation Mr. Nixon had with a top aide on how to hide the hush money that's being raised to give to the men who were caught in the break-in and bugging operation at the Democratic National Headquarters.

Here's the Nixon Library's Naftali reading from the transcript of that recorded conversation released today.

NAFTALI: The president says, I wouldn't want to suggest any subordination or perjury, but on that one, I would be very damn hazy.

TOTENBERG: When he gets to the grand jury, Mr. Nixon is hazy, too, about what might have happened to create the famous 18-and-a-half-minute gap in a critical Oval Office tape recording just days after the Watergate break-in. His theory, he says, is that his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, erased the recording by accident.

The grand jury testimony also shows Mr. Nixon eating up time with long digressions about foreign affairs, the unfairness and brutality of politics and even, at one point, his notion that perhaps the 18-and-a-half-minute gap wasn't the result of an erasure at all, just a blank.

Time after time, the former president portrays himself as the victim. When the special prosecutor at the opening advises Mr. Nixon that he's under oath and that false testimony would subject him to criminal prosecution, the former president harrumphs that he understands such warnings are required for everyone, but contends it was not necessary for him. Then he notes he's testifying voluntarily, despite the fact that he thinks his appearance will make it more difficult for future presidents to get candid, confidential advice.

Later, he complains that the written notes that he's asked to examine, notes that previously had been made available for him to review, are difficult to read and he suggests that the special prosecutor perhaps get a new duplicating machine.

Not long after that, the former president pops a pill and says, it should be recorded, I'm taking anticoagulant ordered by the doctors every day at 12 o'clock. That means if I'm ever in an accident and start to bleed, I will bleed to death unless the doctor is there within 10 seconds.

Historian Stanley Kutler sued to get the transcripts.

STANLEY KUTLER: This is a performance by Nixon and he runs out the clock.

TOTENBERG: The Nixon Library's Naftali says the transcripts reveal a president whose testimony is simply not credible. That, says Naftali, has value in a democratic society.

NAFTALI: Seeing a president under oath jousting with lawyers about issues that a bipartisan majority in the House had found him guilty of is important and significant and equally important and I think a source of pride is the fact that we can read it. It's a very healthy thing when, in a society, the government releases materials, even when they don't make presidents and government look good.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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