WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge has ordered the release of transcripts of Richard Nixon's 11 hours of testimony before two members of a grand jury and Watergate special prosecutors in 1975.
U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the release of the tapes in response to a petition from historian Stanley Kutler and other historians.
Kutler, of the University of Wisconsin, sought release Nixon's testimony, which covered four topics: the nearly 20-minute gap in a White House tape recording of a conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman; the alteration of White House tape transcripts; the Nixon administration's using the IRS to harass political enemies; and a $100,000 payment from billionaire Howard Hughes to Nixon's friend Charles "Bebe" Rebozo.
"There is a tradition in the United States - one that is 'older than our Nation itself' - that proceedings before a grand jury should remain secret," U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in ordering the release of the tapes. "But the rule of grand jury secrecy is not without exceptions."
Lamberth cited several cases in which special circumstances prompted the release of grand jury records. In this case, he cited historical significance, and the fact that most of the major players in the case are dead or have signed off on the petition.
"Indeed, it is 'entirely conceivable that in some situations historical or public interest alone could justify the release of grand jury information,'" Lamberth wrote.
Kutler, who has written several books on Nixon, detailed the key events of Watergate in documents attached to his petition. The Watergate Special Prosecution Force could not prosecute Nixon after he was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, and the grand jury transcripts were sealed and placed in boxes in the National Archives and Records Administrations.
Aside from the fact that Nixon testified that he did not erase the 18½ minutes of White House tape recordings, the rest of the testimony is unknown to the public.
Kutler was joined by the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists in his petition.
Lamberth ordered that the records be unsealed and subject to the review procedures of the National Archives and Records Administration.