How Hard Is the Job of Nixon Archivists? You Decide.


Ms. Krusten is a historian and former National Archives’ Nixon tapes archivist.

When the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) accepted the Nixon Library and Museum into its system of Presidential Libraries on July 11, 2007, its officials were all smiles. Library director Timothy Naftali explained that “tribal squabbles” were behind them. But while Richard Nixon was alive and his records still held by NARA’s Nixon Project in the Washington, DC area, his lawyers fought the Archives over which records were personal and which were official.

At the end of this essay, you’ll have a chance to vote on the status of a memorandum Nixon once wrote in the White House to his chief of staff. Is it personal or governmental? (Knowing HNN, I need not worry that you'll be reluctant to weigh in on the status of an historical document.)

In 1985, Nixon’s lawyers went to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to talk about his historical records. Meeting notes showed some discussion of how the Kennedy Presidential Library supposedly was releasing “most favorable” information. DOJ subsequently directed the National Archives to accept without discretion Nixon’s objections to the release of records. Courts quickly nullified DOJ’s directive.

While representing Stanley Kutler in a lawsuit, Public Citizen discovered in 1992 what later happened with Watergate tapes. “Rather than filing formal objections in accordance with the Archives' regulations, which would be a matter of public record, Nixon brought 70 items from the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (and vetted by Judge Sirica for privacy and other reasons) to the attention of senior Archives' staff.”

Nixon’s lawyers seemed puzzled that we archivists expressed ethical concerns about making cuts from Nixon – without public notice -- to the Special Prosecutor tapes. Placed under oath, I explained to the lawyers, “As far as I know, no federal employee likes to lie.”

We never will know for sure how well the new Nixon Library at Yorba Linda fits into the National Archives. At some Libraries, processing and opening records seems to work smoothly. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, believed most Presidential records should be opened, and the sooner the better. But, as with all executive branch entities, outsiders have little means to assess knowledgeably the conditions at the Nixon or any other Presidential Library.

Former U.S. Archivist Robert Warner once told me that "The Archives faces enormous political pressure but never admits that it does." Whether they deal with stand-up guys or bullies, archivists face them alone.

To the reported dismay of NARA’s Inspector General (IG), Archives officials did not turn to him or call the FBI after an apparent theft in 2003. Instead, they tried themselves to retrieve records removed by Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger.

It was not the only recent loss of a file. As the Senate prepared to hold hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice, White House lawyers in 2005 screened files at NARA’s Reagan Presidential Library. They were left alone with documents at the Library because, as Berger also had said, they needed privacy while making phone calls. Soon, thereafter, archivists discovered that a Roberts file about affirmative action was missing. The IG was unable to establish whether the affirmative action file had been removed from the Library or merely misfiled by NARA staff.

Some power players accept disclosures from their records. As I explained in an earlier essay posted here, when I met H. R. Haldeman in 1987, I respected his intelligence, introspection and courage in facing his past.

NARA’s interactions with Nixon were not as smooth. In 1987, he contested as private or privileged some White House documents that NARA planned to open. His attorneys sought the return of thousands of records from NARA to the former President. One lawyer told the press, “I can raise your hair on end with what the Archives thinks does not infringe privacy and should be released."

We briefly described all the Nixon-contested items on public forms, a process NARA never used again. It now is impossible to tell the extent to which representatives of Nixon’s estate (or former Presidents or their representatives at other Libraries) may have questioned or blocked what NARA planned to open.

After Nixon died in 1994, the Archives released many of the documents that Nixon blocked in 1987. (There was no legal reason not to do so while he still was alive.) Some covered Watergate, others Vietnam. Although NARA overruled many of Nixon’s objections, it returned some documents to Nixon’s representatives as “personal.”

With the opening of the Nixon Library in California, some “personal-returnable” records returned to him by NARA have been released under a deed of gift from the Nixon family. The decision reflects well on Nixon’s daughters. But it also provides a glimpse into the difficult choices the federal archivists had to make during the 1980s.

Think you could easily make the right decision on whether to keep a record in government custody or remove it from the Archives and give it back to a former President? Try for yourself. Read the December 4, 1970 memorandum from Nixon by clicking here.

Then pretend you are one of the archivists who once worked with me at the National Archives during the 1980s -- and vote below. To keep the focus nonpartisan, as it is supposed to be within NARA, let’s create a composite figure from Republican and Democratic past Presidents (Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon). Focus on content only and read the document as if it were written by “Ronald Baines Clixon.”

How would you classify the December 4, 1970 memo? (If you wish, you first may look at a couple of paragraphs about NARA’s statutes and regulations in a brief description here.)

Here are your voting options.

1) document is purely personal or solely political and has no connection to a President's constitutional or statutory duties. It should be returned to him or his family. It then legally may be destroyed by them, filed away or deeded back to NARA, as personal property.

(2) document offers some personal observations and mentions politics and voters but relates to Presidential duties and is inherently governmental. It should be retained in NARA custody. You may consider restricting all or some portions for privacy, either the President’s or that of third parties, while the people still are alive;

(3) document is governmental, relates to Presidential duties, and should be released during the President's lifetime.

All such options were open to NARA in 1987, when its archivists decided what to open, what to restrict and what to mark for return to Nixon.

Vote by posting a comment below on the discussion boards.

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More Comments:

Maarja Krusten - 7/22/2007

I know I'm putting myself at risk for having someone yell at me on the message board for daring to post so many times under my own article. However, the issues are important so I'm willing to take the risk of being yelled at. (Hey, if you're willing to take incoming fire from a former President's lawyer, as I was, then anything potentially dished out on HNN seems mild in comparison, LOL.) I just don't have the sense that many historians have been following closely all the bits and pieces about the Nixon battles that have appeared in the press during the last 20 years or so. So I don't assume context for the fragments I throw out here.

In the testimony excerpt above, when I said "I think we were within our rights to warn supervisors," I am not speaking of attempting to warn Fred Graboske, whom I previously referred to as my former supervisor. He actually supported our position in that dispute. But at the time that the dispute over the 70 tape segments occurred, he no longer was with the Nixon Project, having been transferred away. Sy Hersh noted in his 1992 article that

"Nixon claimed that the archivists were violating his privacy. . . . Fred Graboske, unfortunately, was no longer around to lead the protests: after eleven years on the job, he had moved on to an important new archival assignment, in the White House. The fight was waged by Maarja Krusten and Paul Schmidt; Joan Howard, then the Archives' leading expert on the Nixon papers, joined them." ("Nixon's Last Cover-Up," New Yorker, 12/14/92, 88)

Maarja Krusten - 7/22/2007

For context for the above statement, excerpts from three published articles:

(1) http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/white_house/july-dec97/nixon_11-26.html

"MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, briefly, how did you get access to these tapes?

STANLEY KUTLER: Well, the tapes were ready. They had been processed by 1987, and the National Archives promised an imminent release, which didn't come yet after five years. I had made numerous requests and finally thought there was no other place to go but to the courts, and along with Public Citizen, I filed suit--

MARGARET WARNER: That's an organization.

STANLEY KUTLER: Public interest law firm--filed suit in 1992, and the settlement came down four years later--two years after Richard Nixon's death. I have no doubt that Nixon's death enabled us to finally settle the case because in his lifetime I am certain he simply would not consent to the release of these tapes."

During the Kutler litigation, filed two years before Nixon's death, Nixon’s lawyer questioned people aggressively, apparently in an effort to establish that my former boss, Nixon Project tapes supervisor Fred Graboske, was biased against Nixon. He was not. In fact, Graboske, a Vietnam veteran, had voted for Nixon.

Seymour Hersh noted in his December 14, 1992 New Yorker article on the Kutler case,

"At times, Graboske's three days of testimony turned ugly, with Stan Mortenson, the attorney for Nixon, in effect putting Graboske on trial by repeatedly asking questions implying that he was biased against Nixon. . . . Graboske's pro-bono attorney, Patrick J. Carome, a partner at Wilmer, Curler & Pickering, in Washington, accused Mortenson and the Archives of 'attempting to intimidate this man who tried to see that the right thing was done to the Nixon tapes.' Graboske was especially upset, Carome said in an interview, at the failure of the government attorneys 'to take aggressive steps to protect a government civil servant at a deposition at which they were supposed to be representing the government.'"

I had no pro bono attorney. As a Fed, I relied on DOJ to look out for my interests when I testified in the Kutler case. As had Grabokse, I had voted for Nixon. I've been an Independent for the last 17 years, but I actually voted Republican throughout my career at NARA (1976-1990).

Here is what I wrote in an article that was published in the Presidential Studies Quarterly just before the Kutler case was settled in 1996:

“Anyone who doubts the Archives' predicament should consider the fact that, while lawyers recently asserted the need to re-screen Nixon’s tapes to identify more "personal" segments, a senior NARA manager privately described this as "a chicken-shit idea."

The handling of Kutler's Nixon tapes lawsuit provides a stark lesson in how post-Watergate Washington operates. Let me illustrate this with a personal note. As a former NARA Nixon Project tapes archivist, I testified in the Kutler case in 1992. After later studying the court record, I approached Acting Archivist Peterson in 1994 with ethical concerns about disinformation and possible witness intimidation in the government's defense of the lawsuit. Deeply troubled, she encouraged me to turn to the Justice Department.

Concerned that the head of the Archives might suffer political retribution for efforts to correct litigation records, I decided I should bear any potential retaliation alone. When I spelled out my concerns to the Justice Department, I attempted to protect Peterson by shielding my contact with her from the government lawyers who 'represent' NARA in court. Given the Department's record, I was not surprised when lawyers brushed me off with a stonewalling response. So ill served by those who should be protecting it, it is little wonder the nation's record keeper has become Watergate's last victim.”

[Source: Presidential Studies Quarterly; New York; Winter 1996,
Watergate's last victim by Maarja Krusten]

The three citations point to an extremely difficult environment for executive branch employees in which to attempt to release historical materials in response to legal requirements. While I believe we were right to strive to uphold our statutory mandates, I also believe there has to be a better way of releasing controversial material than what archivists went through while Nixon was alive. What that answer is (delaying the time period before materials are required to be opened? changing the records statutes to make them more realistic but still to take into account all the stakeholders' needs?), I don't know.

I mentioned in my essay the concerns that my colleagues and I had about the handling of 70 items identified by Nixon's agents in 1989 after they reviewed Watergate tapes that already had been vetted for privacy by Judge John Sirica. I hope no archivist in the future has to end up testifying as I did in 1992:

"KUTLER’S ATTORNEY: "Do you have any concerns that any adverse actions
could be taken against you or someone else because of the testimony you
are giving in this deposition?"

DOJ ATTORNEY: "Objection. Compound."

KRUSTEN: "No. It’s my feeling that I and everyone who worked on the
materials tried their very best to adhere to the regulations. When we
felt that we were being asked to do something unethical, we protested
to the extent that subordinate employees may do so without suffering

I think we were within our rights to warn supervisors that they were on
a path that might not stand up to close scrutiny.

Certainly, I think it would have been in the Archives’s interest and
Mr. Nixon’s interest to have the [Record Group] 460 [Watergate Special
Prosecution Force tapes] opening handled in a manner other than it was,
and I think I did everything I could to warn people that this should be

I know of no reason to punish people for attempting to warn an agency
to conform to its regulations. And, in fact, to attempt to do so might
be construed as an admission of guilt.” [Krusten deposition, Civ. A.
92-62-NHJ, 154.]”

Clearly, while we archivists went into federal service after finishing our graduate studies in history, Washington turned out to be a very different place from academe.

Maarja Krusten - 7/21/2007

Sorry, I did proof read this before submitting it but missed the 79 where I meant 70

Maarja Krusten - 7/21/2007

If you have time, Brian, do read my concluding comment posted today at

You'll see what Nixon's lawyer was quoted as saying about the JFK tapes in the Los Angeles Times in 1987.

Thanks again for voting.

Maarja Krusten - 7/21/2007

Thanks for voting, Mark, I appreciate your stopping by (as well as the nice bit in your blog)! You may find interesting the revelation of what happened with another document, described in my concluding remarks posted today at

Maarja Krusten - 7/21/2007

Many thanks to all who took the time to read my essay and the Nixon memo from December 4, 1970 and to vote! Your continued comments are welcome but now that the week is up, it's time to give you some further information.

If, as a member of the public, you walked into the research room of NARA’s Nixon Project at any time after 1987, you could read the following in meeting notes filed by H. R. Haldeman in the Nixon White House Special Files collection. Under the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA), the notes had been screened by federal archivists during the 1980s for retention, restriction or return to Nixon.

[Extract, Haldeman’s notes of meetings with the President]

“12/3 [1970]

PR Only thing we need is boldness, guts, etc.
_not_ how well the machinery works
the story is 'what kind of man is he?'

so we have image of PR admin - & have failed in PR
keep talking about how we make no mistakes
& run things well
but don't get across kind of man
warmth - phone ops - treatment of staff
for. pol. - did 3 things
Cambodia - Mid East - VN speech
courage - independence - boldness
standing alone - over-riding advisors.

have to read act to troops

not Valenti style - but always sell personal

none has come thru in polls. =

Saf. Safire - re his dinner guests
Moore was great - re what kind.

E - S - K - F have to get this across.
_not_ the process
2 hrs. w/ Semple re process is _no_ help."

[end extract]

That’s right – NARA returned the December 4, 1970 memo you voted on to Nixon as personal. But for the last twenty years, Haldeman’s notes of a meeting he had with Nixon on the same topic on December 3, 1970 (one day before the President dictated the memo) have been available as released governmental information. Starting in 1987, you could go to the Archives and read the notes because a NARA archivist determined during the 1980s that the notes Haldeman took while sitting with the President were governmental.

In fact, after 1989, you didn’t have to go to the Archives. University Publications filmed some of the materials NARA released in 1987. The note I just quoted has been available since 1989 on fiche as "Papers of the Nixon White House Part 5. H. R. Haldeman: Notes of White House Meetings, 1969-1973," Joan Hoff, editor, Paul Kesaris, Project Coordinator, University Publications of America, 1989, Fiche 37, Haldeman Notes, White House Meetings, Nov. 10-Dec. 31, 1970 (cont).” I first met Dr. Hoff when she came out to NARA in the late 1980s to do research.

Clearly the requirement to separate personal-private and personal-political from governmental information handed NARA some difficult challenges. Keep in mind that several different archivists worked on the many different series within Nixon’s Special Files, the large collection in which the memo and the notes were filed. Obviously, in a archival unit that held over 40 million pages of Nixon White House documents, no single person could screen for access everything the public (or Nixon’s family) would receive. Nixon, too, employed more than one representative to look out for his interests. A handful of agents working for Nixon’s law firm followed behind NARA’s archivists, examining everything they marked for release to see if Nixon wanted to file a claim to contest the release. No claim was filed for the 12/3 Haldeman meeting notes.

By contrast, the December 4, 1979 memorandum from the President to Haldeman was returned to Nixon by NARA as personal. When, with the permission of the Nixon family, NARA released it on July 11, 2007, it noted, “These boxes were returned to President Nixon in 1987 because they contained materials that did not relate to the statutory duties of the president or to abuses of governmental power as defined by the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974.” (See
http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/documents/nixondonated.php )

I do not know whether archivists marked the December 4, 1970 memo as personal during their independent initial review during the 1980s. Or whether NARA once marked it as governmental but Nixon claimed it was personal and his objection was sustained. I could see the return to Nixon happening either way, both are plausible.

At one time, Nixon’s 1987 objections list was available to the public in NARA’s research room. I don’t know whether it still is. At one time, you members of the public had the right to get copies of the list. In the early 1990s, in a visit to NARA’s Nixon Project after I had left its employ, I made an official request for an archivist to copy for me portions of the list.

In the week before HNN’s editor was kind enough to post my essay here, I threw out to an archivists’ electronic forum the same challenge I gave you all on the December 4 memo. 100% of those voting in response to my challenge in the archivists’ forum stated that the document was governmental and should be retained in government custody. Voters were evenly split as to whether option 2 (retain but consider restricting for privacy) or option 3 (retain and release during President’s lifetime) should apply. So the results among archivists were the same as among historians. No one agreed with NARA’s return of the document to Nixon.

In voting, you and the archivists I challenged came to much the same conclusion.

But my purpose in throwing out this challenge is not to second guess NARA. After all, as I’ve just shown above, its own archivists differed in the 1980s as to how to assess the very same topic captured in two different record formats and types of files. Early in the time period that I worked for NARA, its officials candidly admitted even in official guidance materials -- later made available to Dr. Kutler’s attorneys -- that governmental and personal matters could be inextricably intertwined. But the environment in which we worked was not a vacuum, there were many forces at play.

When the Supreme Court upheld the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act in 1977, "lawyers for Nixon were encouraged by the possibility of developing the idea of a right of political privacy. 'Many people don't realize,' one of the lawyers said hopefully, 'that 99 percent of what a President does is political.'" (Washington Star, June 29, 1977).

But with the passage of the Presidential Records Act, legislators noted that “an examination of the nature of political activities in which a President becomes involved shows that few are truly private and unrelated to the performance of his duties” H. Rept. 1487, 12, published in U.S. Code and Administrative News, 1978, at 5743)

As NARA sought to open Nixon’s documents and tapes, Nixon’s lawyers escalated their thetoric. NARA knew, even if you could not have until I posted my essay, that these types of determinations are too complex to warrant didactic assertions about it or the performance of its employees.. Indeed, that is why statutes and regulations prescribed specific procedures in which NARA was supposed to cloak itself in dealing with Nixon and his representaties..

You could not have known from contemporaneous news accounts between 1987 and 1993 what was going on. (As Dr. Kutler’s lawyers found out, archivists were not systematically “transcribing” Nixon’s tapes in 1991.) What, for example, did you think on September 3, 1987 when you read in the Los Angeles Times that

“R. Stan Mortenson, a Washington lawyer who has represented Nixon and former aides in the files controversy, insisted that Nixon is acting no differently from Eisenhower and former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman.

"They were very solicitous of the confidentiality of communications among their aides and themselves, and Nixon's withdrawals (of papers) are in keeping with their practices," Mortenson said. ‘Nixon has been very circumspect. . . . I can raise your hair on end with what the Archives thinks does not infringe privacy and should be released.’"

Would you even have known that in mentioned LBJ and JFK, Mortenson was describing donor-restricted, not statutorily controlled, Presidential Libraries, ones where all records were a President’s personal property? Would you have known that under the PRMPA and its implementing regulations, personal meant purely personal-political as well as personal-private? And that when Mortenson referred to privacy, he might not have been referring only to what you think of as private (family, medical and other such purely personal information)?

Tellingly, in 1987 the Los Angeles Times reported that “Mortenson said that Nixon's primary objections are focused on 4,000 hours of taped conversations in Nixon's offices, including 80 hours reviewed by the Watergate special prosecutor. Only the 12 1/2 hours of tape used in Watergate trials are available to the public now, but archivists plan to open more in 1989.

‘Nixon has fought for some 13 years to be given equal treatment’ with Kennedy and Johnson, the attorney said. ‘Next to nothing of the Kennedy tapes has been released, and Johnson has got a 50-year ban on any access to his tapes.’”

Despite statutory language calling for disclosure “at the earliest reasonable date” of the “full truth” about Watergate, only 64 hours of Nixon’s tapes were opened during his lifetime. Given the way battles over Nixon’s records were fought in Washington, is it even feasible for federal archivists to try to open records during a power player’s lifetime if he is determined to delay disclosures? Are records statutes too optimistic in thinking that this can be done? Do they take into account sufficiently how frightening disclosure of their actions can be to living persons?

It is my hope that the next time you see federal archivists characterized by observers outside or inside the government as making hair raising decisions (LAT, 1987) or being “too liberal in . . . review ” (New Yorker article by Sy Hersh, December 14, 1992) you will think back on this exercise and consider that there may be more going on than meets the eye. And, having once been an archivist, I fervently hope that NARA will feel able to stand up and defend its employees.

Stephen Kislock - 7/21/2007

The Nixon Archivists will have it a whole lot easier than the Cheney/W. archivists.

mark safranski - 7/21/2007

I more or less agree. The emphasis was clearly political but it is hard for presidents, particularly ones like Nixon, not to dwell on the political aspect of any action they take as president. The separation is rarely clear or crisp.

Maarja Krusten - 7/19/2007

For a recent posting by John Taylor, director of the Nixon Foundation,
see this from July 17, 2007:


He makes some interesting comments about Watergate, scholars (he mentions David Greenberg), U.S. Archivist Allen Weinstein, press coverage of the transfer of the Nixon Library, etc.

Mr. Taylor says of Dr. Greenberg

"Greenberg knows we’re not throwing up roadblocks for scholars. He knows that over the last decade thousands of hours of tapes and hundreds of thousands of pages of records were opened at the Nixon Project in College Park, Maryland, without a single objection from Mr. Nixon’s family or estate. He knows that the documents and tapes will be under ironclad government control at the Nixon Library. He knows that the Nixon Foundation has given the National Archives a massive cache of political documents and tapes that the courts said we could’ve kept

Actually, there is no way to tell for sure that there have been no disagreements. (I've mentioned that NARA has not used the formal objection-filing process since 1987.) Indeed, the New York Times reported reassuringly on June 5, 1991 that “Mr. Nixon did not contest the release of the latest transcripts, [the Archives’ spokeswoman said]. Mr. Nixon's lawyer has previously said his client would not contest the release of transcripts relating to the Watergate affair.”

However, the Kutler litigation later revealed that an agent working for Nixon had brought concerns about 70 Watergate tape segments to the attention of NARA's managers in 1989. NARA's initial interrogatory responses in Kutler v. Wilson in July 1992 did not mention Nixon's 1989 role in later tape deletions. The former President subsequently admitted in his own interrogatory responses that his
agent was the source of the list of 70 items.

In 2006, two NARA officials, Nancy Smith and Gary Stern stated in an article which they wrote jointly that after the Kutler case was settled in 1996, "The Nixon estate has not formally challenged any of the tape openings under this agreement, although they continue to have an agent review tapes at NARA's Nixon Presidential Materials Staff."

Have there been informal challenges or have the parties even simply discussed disagreements? We don’t know.

Mr. Taylor does not mention that the Kutler settlement agreement stated at

"(b). The Nixon estate agrees to review each segment as it is received and promptly to call to the attention of the Archives any concerns that it may have. The Archives and the Nixon estate agree to attempt to work out their differences informally in order to minimize any objections to
a proposed release. To facilitate informal consultation between the Nixon estate and the Archives concerning the tape review, the Archivist shall designate a panel member identified in subparagraph 1(e) above who will serve as a contact with the Nixon estate and assure access to
information relating to Presidential libraries practices and procedures that may arise in the course of the tape review. The designated individual will be responsible for assuring that the Nixon estate has access to the appropriate person to answer its concerns. The Nixon estate may communicate with the designated individual orally or in writing. If the Archives agrees with the Nixon estate that any portion of a segment that has been sent to the Nixon estate as a proposed
release should not be released, the Archives shall assure that there is appropriate documentation to reflect that change."

We have absolutely no information as to how that has played out during the last 11 years. It may have gone well or it may have gone badly. Unfortunately, I believe NARA is more at a disadvantage than it was in 1987. Unlike in 1987 with the filing of objections to the White House Special Files, a published notice of such in the Federal Register and the 1996 press release on the resolution of the "contested items," it has no public mechanism to assure us what happened. (Even now, a reliable record exists of what happened in 1987. You can still go back into the University Publications microfiche of NARA’s releases from Nixon White House Special Files in 1987 and see from the filmed withdrawal sheets which items were withdrawn by archivists and which were withdrawn due to claims by Nixon.)

Mr. Taylor in his letter seems to be trying to reassure readers that all is well.

Curiously, I don’t view disagreement – or admission of disagreement or transparency about process -- as a bad thing. Nixon’s representatives have a legal right to disagree with NARA, statutes and regulations were set up with that in mind. Why shouldn't the parties disagree from time to time? How often do people see eye to eye on everything? Even archivists don’t always agree on everything. (More on that in another postings.) In fact, I was not alarmed in 1988 when the New York Times published a letter from Marin Strmecki, one of the agents who worked for Nixon’s law firm to review what NARA proposed to release. I knew Mr. Strmecki, having worked with him at NARA. In his letters, he reacted to an op ed published in the NYT by Dan T. Carter on July 25, 1988. Mr. Strmecki wrote of Mr. Carter:

“He acts as if filing objections to the release of certain documents from the special files - not the central files - is, prima facie, illegitimate. On the contrary, archives regulations provide for a
system of appealing rulings by the archivists.

Reasonable people can disagree over these judgments, and the objections of Mr. Nixon's lawyers typically involve disputes about whether release of specific documents would violate a person's privacy or whether certain materials contain personal political communications not subject
to release under archival regulations.”

Unfortunately, Nixon’s representatives later did not stick to what was a good line about reasonable people being able to disagree over judgments such as the one I challenged HNN’s readers to make in my article above. (Well, a few brave souls have responded here. I’ll give it another day, then post something you may find relevant to putting this in perspective.) The rhetoric surrounding archival standards and choices escalated in the early 1990s to the point where at least for me, confidence in the process plummeted.

Maarja Krusten - 7/19/2007

Here, for the record, is a summary prepared by Joan Hoff for a microfiche series of released Nixon White House records published by University Publications of America in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I am citing it as a useful, contemporaneous account of various matters from the time period toward the end of my career at NARA. It mentions the separation of political and personal materials from official records as well as the processing of Nixon’s tapes.

This particular text by Dr. Hoff (who then went by Joan Hoff-Wilson) comes from the 1989 microfiche publication, "Papers of the Nixon White House: Part 3, John Ehrlichman, Notes of Meetings with the President, 1969-1973." (This text and the index are now available in PDF through Nexis's academic search engine.) Other entries in the series covered H. R. Haldeman’s meeting notes, the President’s Office Files, etc.

Note the reference to the expectation or hope under the 1979 "negotiated agreement" that Nixon eventually would donate personal materials back to the government. Dr. Hoff appears to have written her narrative in March 1988, which puts it in the time period when I still was working at NARA.

Also of interest in Dr. Hoff's assertion from 1988 is the statement that "Although NARA has basically completed processing the tapes and prepared a 27,000-page finding aid for researchers, lawyers for Nixon and some of his top advisers claim that untold numbers of violations of the personal privacy of individuals remain. They argue that the review process agreed to in the 1979 "negotiated agreement" has not proven feasible with respect to these controversial secret tapings, and that, therefore, they should be reviewed again using stricter privacy standards.”

I certainly was familiar with what Dr. Hoff had written. In fact I cited "the University Publication's forward to the microfilm publication . . . placed with the finding aids in the public Research Room" in my deposition testimony in Kutler v. Wilson. Testifying from memory (I brought no publications or anything else with me when I testified), I stated "The Foreword to this publication stated that Mr. Nixon's attorneys felt that review of the tapes had not proven feasible under the negotiated agreement, the 1979 negotiated agreement, and that they should be reviewed for stricter application of the privacy standard. Of all the public statements that I have read, that one seems to be closer to the truth, as I see it, than anything else I have seen." (Kutler v. Wilson, September 22, 1992, Krusten dep., 149)

Here is what Dr. Hoff wrote of the time period towards the close of my NARA career (I left in January 1990):

“In 1977, after the Supreme Court upheld the 1974 Presidential Recordings and Materials Act as constitutional, it took another two years for attorneys representing the former President and federal archivists to work out an agreement permitting NARA to systematically screen and prepare for research purposes the Special Files and the White House tapes. In February 1979, this unusual ‘negotiated agreement’ called for the permanent removal of ‘any political document
in the files that did not have a direct connection to the President's constitutional powers or statutory duties’ and the return of these documents to Nixon with the understanding that ‘he would donate them in the future to the National Archives.’ Because of these and other
unique procedures, the processing of the Nixon papers did not begin until five.years after he resigned as President.

Since that time, Nixon and/or his key aides have brought additional suits attempting to prevent the opening of documents in these controversial Special Files. In the interim, archivists have reduced the volume of the Nixon Special Files by six percent; legal representatives of the former President and members of his administration have withdrawn another ten percent. Although users can request mandatory reviews of both sets of winnowed material, the historical record of the Nixon administration has at least temporarily been diminished. In the event that some of these documents are reviewed once again by federal archivists, the former President can still challenge their release through the courts. Thus the specter of protracted litigation still hangs over these contested pages.

Subsequent to the 1979 ‘negotiated agreement,’ NARA drafted six sets of regulations under which both the most sensitive materials, along with the most commonplace ones from the voluminous Nixon White House Central Files, would be processed. Previous sets had been revised or dropped because of congressional or legal actions. Before obtaining approval in
1986 from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to publish the sixth set in the Federal Register, the National Archives was given a Justice Department memorandum, attached to but not published with these regulations, that unequivocally stated that Nixon could still invoke executive privilege over these documents, and that President Ronald Reagan or any future sitting President would have to honor the claim without reviewing the merits. Litigation on this memorandum was still pending in March 1988.

The 4,000 hours of tape recordings pose even thornier archival and access problems. It would take a single person almost two years of non-stop listening for eight hours a day just to hear all of the tapes without taking time to review or analyze them. Although NARA has basically completed processing the tapes and prepared a 27,000-page finding aid for researchers, lawyers for Nixon and some of his top advisers claim that untold numbers of violations of the personal privacy of individuals remain. They argue that the review process agreed to in the 1979 'negotiated agreement' has not been proven feasible with respect to those controversial secret tapings, and that, therefore, they should be reviewed again using stricter privacy standards.

In the unlikely event that no further legal barriers are encountered, sometime during 1989 the National Archives intends to open those recorded conversations that the Watergate special prosecutor requested (not all of these were used as evidence and, hence, were made public in various court cases after 1974). After these initial eighty hours of special prosecutor tapes are opened, NARA will follow its regulations and release additional segments, similar to the manner in which the first Special Files documents began to be released sequentially in 1987. This means that all persons mentioned in the recordings who have requested that they be notified in advance will be, in the event they would want to file charges against the release of specific conversations.

Thus, even with the Tape Survey Log, researchers face many delays and obstacles before they will be able to analyze and interpret this unique documentary source—the White House tapes.”

The litigation that Dr. Hoff referred to in March 1988 as still pending was Public Citizen v. Burke, 843 F.2d. 1473, 1479 (D.C. Cir. 1988). The judge handed down a decision later in 1988, nullifying the DOJ directive. As I recall, the judge noted that a former office holder, such as Mr. Nixon, could not direct incumbent executive branch officials to take actions.

As to my own testimony in 1992, cited above, keep in mind that I had been astonished in 1991 to read in the New York Times a quote attributed to a NARA spokesperson. On June 5, 1991, the NYT reported, "National Archives experts are cataloging and transcribing thousands of hours of remaining conversations, which will be released over time, but years will pass before all become public, the archives' spokeswoman . . .said today."

Deposition testimony and interrogatory responses in Kutler v. Wilson in 1992 revealed that no such systematic transcription was taking place. And that NARA had rejected transcription as an option (during the early 1980s). Indeed, NARA stated in interrogatory responses filed in July 1992 that "The creation of transcript was initially considered, but later rejected when it was discovered that approximately 100 hours of staff time was necessary to produce the transcript for a one-hour tape recording."

In the court record and in subsequent published articles, witnesses and other officials offered various, differing accounts or opinions as to why the tapes had not been released when Dr. Kutler filed his lawsuit. Contemporaneous documents entered as evidence in the court case revealed that NARA at one time had planned to start releasing the tapes in 1989, a process it had contemplated completing by 1995.

Maarja Krusten - 7/19/2007

Thank you so much for voting, Brian. I appreciate it!

As to your question, I hope you don't mind, but I would rather not answer speculatively. I'm happy to discuss archival processing issues (the Kutler litigation uncovered quite a lot in many, many areas, so there is a fair amount on the public record) and archival materials that have been released. I also discuss Haldeman's published diary and how it matches up with his meeting notes, etc.

It's been 17 years since I worked at NARA. Of course, I do stay in touch with some friends there. I also read everything I can about NARA, such as narratives written by its own officials and by outsiders (such as Prof. Benjamin Hufbauer). I also follow what is disclosed in IG reports released under FOIA to others, what is posted on NARA's website about the semi-annual reports from the IG, etc. And I'm always interested in testimony, especially by NARA's ISOO director. I sometimes apply a retrospective perspective to what I read about. But that's about it as far as what I discuss or link to. Have you talked to Dr. Naftali?

BTW, I did a search for "Mrs. Nixon" on the Nixon Library's website and found this:

I have no information on this, there is no provenance information associated with the document -- at that link it just comes up as a PDF file. The metadata provides minimal information. The document properties for this PDF file show that this is described as "transcript for Conversation 21-56" and that it was created 7/3/2007. The author, of course, is the Nixon Library and Museum.

Although you would know this as a Nixon scholar, I'll mention for general readers that the reference to Connie in the transcript is to Connie Stuart, Mrs. Nixon's press secretary.

Again, many thanks to you and to the others who have voted, so far! I'm very interested in how the answers are shaping up.

Brian Robertson - 7/18/2007

In my humble option number 2 best describes this document. ( document offers some personal observations and mentions politics and voters but relates to Presidential duties and is inherently governmental. It should be retained in NARA custody. You may consider restricting all or some portions for privacy, either the President’s or that of third parties, while the people still are alive;)

I chose this option because it discusses the role of Julie and Tricia in representing the administration. It is a document that should be preserved for future historians to study.

Also, as a former Nixon archivist, do you think the conversations between President and Mrs. Nixon will ever see the light of day? Since one of my interests is Nixon's perceptions of gender, I've always thought that those conversations would shed more light on their relationship. This, of course, would fit under the category of a private conversation but yet these conversations are apparently still on the tapes(although blocked from the copies available to scholars).

Maarja Krusten - 7/18/2007

Thanks for voting. I am going to post some comments at week’s end in which I’ll provide a few observations on the challenge I threw out to HNN’s readers. But I’m not going to second guess what NARA did with this particular document. My purpose is to illustrate the unique and difficult challenges faced by federal archivists working Nixon’s tapes and records.

In 1996, Professor Anna K. Nelson published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about delays in releasing Nixon’s tapes and documents. This led to an exchange of letters between the director of the Nixon Foundation and me, which I’ve extracted below.

1. John H. Taylor, director, Nixon Foundation, to CHE, March 8, 1996, extracts:

“Anna K. Nelson's Point of View piece, ('Open the Nixon Papers' February 2), is a year out of date and, in its most newsworthy particulars, flat wrong.

Nelson blames unnamed ‘lawyers’ for holding up the release of 150,000 pages of documents from the White House Special Files. About 90 per cent of the Special Files have been open for many years, including many Presidential and other high-level documents of the most sensitive nature, Nelson's imputations to the contrary notwithstanding. The papers we asked the government to keep closed were of the sort that are routinely withheld at other Presidents' libraries.

. . .. As his former spokesman, I know that the late President became most impatient with the press when it based its reports on assumptions and prejudices rather than the facts. In publishing Nelson's substantially incorrect article, The Chronicle has continued in that ignoble tradition.”

2. Maarja Krusten, former NARA archivist, to CHE, April 5, 1996, extracts:

“Stating that ‘this is the first occasion on which Mr. Nixon has asserted claims under the NARA regulations,’ the former President's attorneys conveyed their objections to the Archives in an April 7, 1987, letter. . . . In the 1987 letter, later made public, Nixon's lawyers directly linked their objections to strong disagreement with NARA's regulatory definition of personal, as opposed to government, information. During the late 1980s, NARA archivists, I among them, heard of serious contention among the members of the Presidential Materials Review Board, then considering Nixon's objections.

[Side note to HNN’s readers: some of the apparent contention within the Board was addressed by Jack Anderson in a July 25, 1989 column, “Archivists Leaning Towards Returning Papers to Nixon,” available through Nexis. One of the witnesses in the Kutler litigation also briefly mentioned the Review Board in his testimony.]

If the blocked documents ‘were of the sort that are routinely withheld at other Presidents' libraries,’ as Taylor claims, there would have been no such contention. ... In fact, passages in H.R. Haldeman's diary indicate that some of the blocked Special Files information covers the Vietnam War and Watergate, hardly ‘purely personal’ matters.

. . . . Taylor's blanket insistence that all the items routinely would have been withheld is troubling. It implies that, regulations notwithstanding, NARA no longer has the discretion to reject any of the 1987 claims.

. . . .Political pressure aside, NARA faces great challenges in applying a records statute requiring release of information of ‘general historical significance’ while protecting national security and personal privacy. ... The requirements are so difficult to balance that reviewers cannot escape criticism no matter what they decide.”

I did not mention in my letter as published that I had filed a petition with NARA under 36 CFR §1275.56 in 1994 or 1995, asserting that passages in H. R. Haldeman’s published diary suggested that the continued withholding by NARA of some passages of his meeting notes did not appear warranted.

According to a press release that NARA issued on October 3, 1996, available at
“The board completed its work in July of 1996 and decided to retain 33,199 documents and to return 8,992 documents to the Nixon estate.”

Catherine Forslund - 7/17/2007

This is governmental and by 1987 was removed enough in time to sully release in Nixon's lifetime.

Maarja Krusten - 7/17/2007

The need to segregate personal from official in Nixon’s documents and tapes derives from the fact that his materials were seized in place when he resigned. I spent about three years of my 14-year NARA career reviewing documents, first making a cut on whether they were personal-private, personal-political or governmental. Then for the governmental ones, screening them to see if they could be opened or required restriction.

I spent most of my career – about 10 years – doing the same with his recorded conversations. So instead of reading something such as the December 4, 1970 document, I was sitting at my desk all day, listening to spoken words and deciding “personal-returnable” or “governmental-retainable” for everything I heard. If you look at NARA’s tape logs, you see that some excisions last for mere seconds. (Yes, we did our own physical editing, too.)

In my view, the courts were overly optimistic that this could be accomplished smoothly. When Nixon died 20 years after leaving office, only 64 of 3,000 hours of taped conversations were open. I’m not saying that the PRMPA was not well intended. It just didn’t take into account the power imbalance between a former President and NARA. And how difficult it was to respond to a statute that required that the release of “the full truth” about “abuses of governmental power” take precedence over other disclosures.

Nixon’s lawyers argued in court that non-Watergate materials should not be released until they were 25 years old or until after Nixon's death. (Nixon v. Freeman, 670 F.2d 357-358 (D.C. Cir. 1982)) The courts rejected his argument. But for all intents and purposes, Nixon prevailed. Except for one hour of taped conversation released, as I recall, in 1993, no new information was released from the tapes about Watergate during his lifetime.

In 1991, NARA had released 63 hours of Watergate conversations, but they were the materials uncovered by and used by the Special Prosecutor during the 1970s. The 200 additional hours of Watergate abuse of power information that my colleagues and I discovered and screened for disclosure remained on the shelf, their very existence unknown to anyone except those within NARA, until Dr. Kutler went to court in 1992. Even then, they were not released until after Nixon died in 1994.

Nixon’s lawyers and agents often hearkened back to how things were done in his predecessors’ Libraries. An agent employed by Mr. Nixon’s law firm to review files that the Archives sought to release wrote a letter to the editor in 1988. It was published in the New York Times. He noted that “Mr. Nixon's concerns today center on the treatment of his Administration's non-Watergate papers and tapes. He has simply sought to have these processed and released in the same manner as were those of his predecessors. Indeed, Mr. Nixon's lawyers expressly stated that any documents containing ‘evidence of an abuse of governmental power’ should be released.”

In the 1970s, Mr. Nixon's lawyers argued in court that the mere review of his records by government archivists would "chill expression because he [Mr. Nixon] will be 'saddled' with prior positions communicated in private, leaving him unable to take inconsistent positions in the future." They objected to public access screening by the National Archives because their client's "most private thoughts and communications, both written and spoken, will be exposed to and reviewed by a host of persons whom he does not know and did not select, and in whom he has no reason to place his confidence. This group will decide what is personal . . . and what is historical, to be opened for public review."

A three-judge panel decided in 1976 that "Congress had ample reason to mandate screening by government archivists rather than control by Mr. Nixon, who lacks their expertise and disinterestedness."

The Supreme Court noted in 1977 that Mr. Nixon's "view of what constitutes official as distinguished from personal and private materials might differ from the view of Congress, the Executive Branch or a reviewing court."

But no reviewing court ever examined documents or tape segments that Nixon sought to reclaim from NARA as personal. The judges in the 1992 Kutler litigation made all their determinations based on lawyers’ arguments (DOJ spoke for NARA) without ever seeing a single Nixon document or hearing a single tape segment. They had no idea what the Nixon-NARA disputes over the scope of personal material substantively were about. Those were left for NARA and Nixon to work out alone. While Nixon could go to court over what we proposed to open, researchers had and still have no right to sue over what was or is withheld from them. Or is marked for removal from government custody. In that sense, the PRMPA differs significantly from FOIA and the PRA which grant the public some rights to judicial appeal.

Still, Stanley Kutler went to court in 1992 to argue generally that the tapes should be released, even if there was no way to adjudicate disclosure standards. The case dragged on until 1996. By filing a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Kutler, Public Citizen learned through testimony and by studying correspondence between NARA and Nixon some of what had transpired. The government made some documents available to the plaintiff in discovery although the public court record also reflected a lengthy privilege index of denied materials.

Trudy Peterson took charge of NARA in March 1993, nearly a year after Dr. Kutler filed his lawsuit. As an historian, while serving as Acting Archivist, she understood the difficulty of applying a law that required the Archives to give priority to releasing information about governmental abuses of power.

Dr. Peterson's intentions seemed good. She had a sterling reputation (she was a former President of the Society of American Archivists. I trusted her. In fact, I sent her an essay about the history of processing Nixon’s materials, which I was happy to hear that NARA later made available to Nixon’s lawyers.

Dr. Peterson wrote in an internal memorandum on May 18, 1993 that opening abuse of power information "takes the conversations out of context of the rest of the activities going on at the time period. That is not fair to the researcher, who is left to puzzle out what else may have gone on in related conversations that month. Second, it puts the staff archivists in the position of judging precisely what is related to 'abuses of power,' rather than judging purely what is to be retained by the Government as opposed to being eligible for return to Nixon."

Dr. Peterson noted, "I have been attempting to contract to have a management study of the tape review and related processing, but I have been meeting with a good deal of resistance within NARA." (Her memo became part of the court record under very troubling circumstances, Nixon's lawyers having mysteriously been provided a copy without official authorization.)

An objective third-party study in 1993 might have helped the Archives in its transition from private to public control of White House records. Had it been undertaken and perhaps released to the public, such a study might have provided some transparency to what largely is by necessity an insular process of opening Presidential records. It even might have differentiated clearly between old Presidential Library traditions going back to FDR's days and new statutory requirements and legislative intent. That might have eased NARA's path. But no such study ever occurred and NARA has continued its work alone.

Maarja Krusten - 7/17/2007

Hi, Brian, I’m glad you’re one of the people who wandered over to my article. Please, do vote on the document if you have time to read it.

You ask whether “prior to the Nixon library, were Presidential foundations allowed to choose which documents to preserve?”

There was no Nixon Library until the privately administered one was established in 1990. As you know, Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act in 1974, leading the former President to sue the government. Nixon’s papers came directly to the National Archives, the physical move from storage in the White House and elsewhere in the Washington area taking place in August 1977 after the Supreme Court in June upheld the decision in Nixon v. Administrator. (I already was a National Archives’ employee then and worked on the move.) There was a Nixon Presidential Materials Staff at the National Archives which worked on the papers from 1977 through 2007. However, until July 11, 2007, there was no NARA administered Nixon Library.

The requirement that archivists trained in history segregate personal and persona-political from official materials is unique to Nixon’s records. In the donor-restricted Libraries, all the President's records were considered personal and selected materials were deeded to NARA by the former President or his heirs. With the passage of the Presidential Records Act in 1978, in every White House since 1981, the President and his staff themselves
are supposed to segregate official from personal and personal-political material at the time they are creating the records.

Prior to 1974, Presidential papers by custom were considered personal property although that was not spelled out in any statute. Presidents, their families or their designees could dispose of them at will. They basically had the same right as any of us have to sort through the papers of our family members and to decide what to destroy and what to donate as archival collections. Except the matters often were governmental, some of them potentially of great national import.

The changes in the handling of Presidential records are covered nicely by Dr. Richard J. Cox in his article, “America’s Pyramids: Presidents and Their Libraries,” available at
I often quote from his article the comments about the so-called donor restricted Presidential Libraries some 30 years ago by Herbert Feis. Dr. Feis noted that “officials and trustees who are guardians of these collections may regard themselves also as guardians of the reputation of the memorialized individual. They may be loath to expose that reputation to sting or stain as long as living persons care deeply.”

I touch on this also in my article, “Look Before You Leap into Presidential Libraries,” available at http://hnn.us/articles/34128.html These matters rarely are explained in news articles. For example, an article about Presidents’ campaign-related records in the St. Petersburg Times from 2004 fails to distinguish between PRA and donor-restricted Libraries. Or to explain how, by whom, and at what point political materials were separated from official ones or deeded to the Libraries. See http://www.sptimes.com/2004/06/02/Worldandnation/Bush_culls_presidenti.shtml
As to the specific allegations made in Sy Hersh’s book, I’m familiar with them from having read the book. But, given the fact that the Kennedy materials were treated by custom as personal property, there is no way to ascertain authoritatively what happened with all of Kennedy’s papers and tapes.

According to a senior NARA official’s deposition testimony transcript in Kutler v. Wilson, Civ. A. 92-0662-NHJ, a Review Board named by the Kennedy family has responsibility for deciding what will be released to the public from Kennedy's White House tapes. Since this came up in the Kutler litigation, I suspect that that would have been Nixon’s wish, as well. Other than that fleeting mention in the Kutler lawsuit transcript, I don’t know of any public records which discuss how JFK’s tapes are reviewed. If I find any in a Google search, I’ll post a link.

Again, do take the time to vote, I’d be interested in your take on the 1970 document.

Brian Robertson - 7/17/2007

I remember reading in Seymour Hersh's
"The Darkside of Camelot" that the Kennedy Foundation destroyed massive amounts of documents that reflected poorly on the Kennedy Administration. If I remember correctly, Hersh reported that Kennedy Sympathizers and family members were given great leeway in what documents to preserve and which one's to destroy. Thus, my question for Ms. Krusten is, that prior to the Nixon library, were Presidential foundations allowed to choose which documents to preserve?

Maarja Krusten - 7/17/2007

The quotes above derive from the CD version of The Haldeman Diaries (Sony, 1994), which is more complete than the book version released by G. P. Putnam's.

In the foreword that Haldeman wrote for the published diaries before he died in November 1993, he noted that when he resigned from his position in the White House in 1973, he was not allowed to remove any of his files, papers or diaries:

"After seven years of legal action, the diaries finally were admitted to be my personal property; however, they had to remain in the custody of the National Archives, where they had been stored upon removal from the White House safe. A negotiated settlement with the Archives resulted in my being provided copies of each handwritten journal book and oral cassette in return for my 'giving' the originals to the Archives (which was a little ironic, since they already had them under lock and key."

Maarja Krusten - 7/17/2007

Of the people mentioned in Nixon's December 4, 1970 memo, the following were on the government payroll: Haldeman, Kissinger, Ehrlichman, Flanigan, Safire, Moore, Rumsfeld, Price, Klein, Ziegler, Butterfield, Shultz, and Rosemary Woods (referred to in the memo as Rose).

Nixon refers in the memo to Derge as well as to the better-known Gallup and Harris polls. As reflected in numerous entries in Bob Haldeman's published diary, some polls during the Nixon presidency showed the public's reaction to domestic and foreign policy issues or to specific actions taken by the administration, others showed general Presidential approval/disapproval numbers, and others (during the first term) showed results for trial heats for the forthcoming 1972 Presidential race.

David Derge was a pollster used both by the Republican National Committee and by the White House during the Nixon administration. During the 1980s, when archivists were assessing documents and tapes to see what should be retained and what returned to Nixon, NARA held in Haldeman's and other aides' files, such as those of Dwight Chapin, various materials on polling. This is reflected in the finding aids later posted on the Web by NARA. Dr. Derge's papers were processed by archivists employed by the then still privately administered Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in 2004. That finding aid, like the NARA-produced ones for Haldeman, Chapin, et al., now also is available on the Web at http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/index.php

As to additional context, here is what Bob Haldeman wrote in his diary for December 3, 1970, the day BEFORE the President sent his memorandum to him:

"He got back going on the PR thing again, making the point that the story we need to get across is boldness, guts, etc., rather than how well the machinery works. He's pretty much obsessed with the adverse reaction he had to E's report that he and Shultz had spent two hours with Bob Semple (of the New York Times) explaining how well the White House system is working. P feels the story we need to get out is what kind of a man he is, rather than the pitch on the machinery. He concludes we now have the image of a PR-oriented Administration, but we've totally failed in our real PR. We keep talking about how we make no mistakes and how we run things well, but we don't get across what kind of a man the P is. His warmth, the phone operators, that sort of thing. Also, we've missed in the foreign policy area where we had three major accomplishments: Cambodia, the Middle East, and the Vietnam speech. But we don't get across the courage, the independence, the boldness, standing alone, overruling advisors, that go into this. He doesn't want a pitch Valenti-style, but he does want the personal idea of the P to come through. He uses the polls as a basis for concluding that none of it has."

Haldeman's published diary subsequently shows additional discussion of some of the issues raised in the December 4th memo. For example, on January 16, 1971, Haldeman notes "He got back on the PR question again and made the point that we can't worry about being charged with pragmatism or trying to do too much. If we can get across the 'Nixon the Man' story, it will override the rest of it."

Maarja Krusten - 7/16/2007

Thanks for voting!

One reason for the Nixon staff exodus is geographic. If you have family ties, a spouse who works or a child in school, you have to think carefully about whether to uproot yourself and your family to move to the other coast. I think that has been a big factor. From what little I know, I have the impression that Dr. Naftali has established good rapport with people at the National Archives.

Submitted by Smartphone

Gary Ostrower - 7/16/2007

I would place the memo into category 2: part personal, part governmental. As Nixon would have said, let me be perfectly clear. If even just 5% of it is governmental, it should remain part of the public record. For what it is worth, I have lots of confidence in the new director, Tim Naftali. I hope such confidence is shared by the archivists.

Maarja Krusten - 7/16/2007

Thanks for voting!

You ask if the Nixon Papers at NARA have now been disssolved. I take it you are referring to what used to be the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff (or Nixon Project) at College Park, MD? (The new Library at Yorba Linda is a part of NARA, as are all the other Presidential Libraries.) No, it has not been dissolved -- yet.

As of now, the Nixon Library maintains a presence on the West and the East Coast. See
Eventually, all the Nixon materials which used to be part of the Nixon Project at College Park will be transferred to California. But for at least the next couple of years, there still be a presence at Archives 2 in College Park.

Many of the College Park Nixon Project staff are leaving or already have left for other jobs, inside or outside NARA. The exodus actually started at the time when NARA announced in 2004 that it would accept the Yorba Linda facility into its system. The biggest loss is John Powers, who representated the institutional memory of the Nixon tapes. (John is the author of "The History of Presidential Audio Recordings and the Archival Issues Surrounding Their Use," extracts from which have been posted on the Miller Center's site.)

As the article by Mr. Moss and Mr. Nichter elsewhere on this week's HNN main page notes, the disclosable portions of 1,000 hours of the total 3,700 hours of Nixon's taped conversations remain to be released.

I'm very glad to hear you found the staff at the Nixon Project "incredibly nice and helpful!" Fits my assessment of them, also.

Nonpartisan - 7/16/2007

Agreed on that score. What's more, I'd take a somewhat different tack to making the decision than Maarja suggests: instead of attempting to remain nonpartisan about the whole thing, I'd assume the President was someone I absolutely detested (in this case, Nixon), and that personal feelings for the President thus did not impact my decision-making process in the slightest. I'd then apply this same standard to the papers of ALL Presidents -- whether it's Carter, Clinton, or Reagan, I'd pretend they all were Richard Nixon, and then do my job accordingly.

Maarja, does the founding of this new library mean that the Nixon Papers at NARA have now been dissolved? If so, what's happened to the incredibly nice and helpful archivists I met over there some months ago -- did they go to the Nixon Library, or are they working for NARA in another capacity?

Jonathan Dresner - 7/15/2007

I'd say that it was a document that was political in intent, but that there were sufficient implications and mentions for statutory duties -- foreign relations, C-in-C, administrative branch administration -- to classify it as "governmental."