COLLEGE PARK – The National Archives is set to release tens of thousands of President Nixon’s previously confidential files Thursday and portions of taped conversations that were cited in impeachment proceedings against him.
The 54 minutes of tape may be the final pieces to be released to the public from about 201 hours of tape that the House Judiciary Committee used as evidence of Nixon’s “abuse of governmental power.”
The previously withheld segments are part of 30 hours of taped conversations that touch on everything from the Pentagon Papers to the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem and the Watergate cover-up.
Joan Hoff, author of “Nixon Reconsidered,” said the tapes and 150,000 pages of documents will answer some of the last remaining questions about the impeachment allegations against Nixon.
“There were 57 different allegations from the House Judiciary Committee, including almost everything under the sun,” Hoff said.
She said the additional Watergate material to be released is “a grab-bag,” because the allegations ranged “from taxes to the appointment of ambassadors to campaign finances.”
The documents to be released Thursday will also touch upon the Vietnam War, Nixon’s trip to China and post-World War II relations among European nations and the United States, according to archives officials.
Since 1986, the National Archives Nixon Presidential Project has released about 6 million pages of text, 4,000 videos and 450,000 photographs related to the Nixon presidency. That is still only a fraction of the 44 million pages of text that the Nixon Project houses at Archives II in College Park.
Nixon, who is one of the most thoroughly documented presidents, recorded thousands of hours of conversations on his telephone and in his office during his presidency.
Most of the “abuse of governmental powers” conversations were released in November 1996 after University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley Kutler sued the archives to open the records.
But the segments to be released Thursday were not included in 1996 because they had not yet been declassified, said Susan Cooper, an archives spokeswoman.
Tapes of Cabinet meetings were released in 1997. The remaining 3,400 hours of conversations, recorded from February 1971 to July 1973, will be released at a future date, said John Taylor, the executive director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, Calif.
As executor of the Nixon estate, Taylor listened to the new 54 minutes of tape prior to release as part of the declassification process. He said he believes the new segments show that “Vietnam contains the roots of Watergate.”
“Ultimately, if people continue to study Nixon, they will find that the deciding and defining event was America’s argument with itself over Vietnam,” Taylor said.
Jeffrey Kimball, author of “Nixon’s Vietnam War,” said the documents regarding Vietnam and attempts at detente with the former Soviet Union will be of most interest. He said he plans to visit Archives II this spring to study the new documents.
“He (Nixon) has succeeded in convincing many that while failing in Watergate, he achieved much in foreign policy,” said Kimball, a history professor at Miami University in Ohio. “Only with documental evidence can we determine whether that’s true or not.”
Hoff also plans to focus on Nixon’s policy achievements, but she is more concerned his domestic achievements.
She said Nixon’s domestic policy was “more liberal than any other president since Roosevelt, including Clinton.” Hoff expects the new documents will reveal progress in affirmative action, welfare expansion and environmental legislation under his tenure.
But Keith Olson, a University of Maryland professor who is working on a Nixon book, said he thinks Americans will continue to associate Nixon with corrupt government.
“In many ways, if you look at American life since World War II, he is the symbol of American political life,” Olson said, pointing out that Nixon appeared on the national political ticket five times during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
“Nixon is one of the reasons why America lost faith in the government in general and the president in particular,” he said.
Archives officials said that public interest in Nixon releases — Thursday’s will be the 15th — has been mixed.
“Sometimes we don’t get anybody,” said Cooper. Officials have reserved two lecture rooms at Archives II to handle Thursday’s event.
But the release is likely to spark renewed interest from scholars, and Taylor thinks the general public remains interested as well.
“President Nixon will always be a subject of enormous controversy to the generation that came of age during the 1960s and 1970s,” he said.