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HISTORIANS ASK CONGRESS TO SUSPEND NIXON TRANSFER

Controversial Cancellation of Nixon Library Conference Raises Questions
About Planned Move of Nixon Tapes and Presidential Files to Yorba Linda

Private Facility Asking for Millions in Public Subsidies With No Guarantee
Of Unified Collection, Public Access, or Independent Review

American Library Association Washington Office Also Calls for
Suspension

March 10, 2005


Join the OpenNixon list and support the historians' letter.

Update
March 17, 2005

Nixon Library Promises Donation of Spliced Tapes/Files to National Archives

Press coverage

"Nixon Library Can't Be Trusted Not to Play With His Words," by David Greenberg, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2005

"Director of Nixon Library Agrees to Make President's Political Tapes Public," by Scott Shane, New York Times, March 18, 2005

"Library, government make deal on Nixon papers," by Amy Taxin and Erica Perez, The Orange County Register, March 18, 2005

"Nixon Library Stirs Anger by Canceling Conference," by Scott Shane, New York Times, March 11, 2005

 

 

 

 

Update - March 17, 2005
Nixon Library Promises Donation of
Spliced Tapes/Files to National Archives

For more information contact
Thomas Blanton - 202/994-7000

March 10, 2005

TO: Members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives
Committees on Appropriations, Government Affairs, and Government Reform

We are writing to request that Congress suspend the proposed transfer of the Nixon Presidential Materials from their present location at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, to the Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California.

The Nixon Library, working in an unprecedented partnership with Whittier College, had invited the undersigned to participate in a scholarly conference scheduled for April 28 and 29, 2005 on the subject of "Richard Nixon as Commander-in-Chief: The History of Nixon and Vietnam." Last week, the Nixon Library abruptly cancelled the conference, claiming insufficient advance ticket sales. The excuse rings hollow, coming as it does eight weeks before the event, and in the wake of months of attempts by the Library to turn the conference from a scholarly discussion into a celebrity show.

The unprofessional behavior of the Nixon Library leadership calls into question that institution's fitness to join the Presidential Library system. The Nixon Library evidently feels free to toss aside, at its own convenience, its commitments to Whittier College and to the conference participants. A similarly cavalier attitude toward the commitments that the Library has made to the National Archives and to the Congress, in order to gain public funding for the transfer, would seriously jeopardize public access to and long-term preservation of invaluable historical records.

The Nixon Library is asking the taxpayers to provide $3 million to underwrite the transfer, and millions more to build a new wing to hold the materials. This amount is in addition to the $18 million already paid by the taxpayers to the Nixon estate in compensation for the Congressional action in 1974 that saved the Nixon tapes and papers from the destruction contemplated in President Nixon's original agreement with the General Services Administration. No other presidential library has received federal funding to build its facility, which is prohibited by the Presidential Libraries Act.

President Bush did not include the $3 million downpayment on the transfer in his proposed budget, and we applaud that fiscally responsible decision. Since the Nixon tapes and presidential files already are in the professional hands of the National Archives at College Park, there would be no apparent gain for openness from moving the materials to California. In fact, the transfer would inevitably create periods of time when the materials are in transit and therefore inaccessible. More importantly, the transfer will absorb thousands of hours of archivists' time - as well as millions of scarce dollars - that would be better spent reviewing and opening the files not yet accessioned. The proposed $3 million transfer payment is greater than the annual budget of the entire Nixon Presidential Materials Project today (about $2 million).

The primary argument in favor of the transfer is that it might lead to a unitary collection combining the materials already destined for Yorba Linda from President Nixon's career before and after the White House, together with the presidential materials now at College Park. This would re-unite the sections of the tapes (over 800 hours from a total of over 3200 hours) and the presidential papers (more than 50,000 documents) that have been designated for removal and return to the Nixon estate because of their personal or political content. The latter are especially important for scholars to understand the interaction of policy with politics. However, neither the 2003 amendments that authorized the transfer, nor any other communications on the public record, feature a legally binding commitment by the Nixon estate or the Nixon Library & Birthplace for such a unified collection in the control of the National Archives and governed by public access laws.

We recommend first, that Congress should suspend any action to appropriate funds in support of the Nixon Library transfer. Second, Congress should hold oversight hearings on the National Archives' arrangements with the Nixon Library. Third, Congress should enact a statutory requirement for an independent review board at each of the existing and future Presidential Libraries, on the model of the State Department's Historical Advisory Committee, which works to ensure the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the Foreign Relations of the United States series.

Sincerely,

Larry Berman, Professor, University of California, Davis, and Director of the University of California Washington Center
Thomas Blanton, Director, National Security Archive, George Washington University
Carolyn Eisenberg, Professor of History, Hofstra University
David Farber, Professor of History, Temple University
David Greenberg, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers University, "History Lesson" Columnist for Slate
Jussi Hanhimaki, Professor of International History and Politics, Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva)
George C. Herring, Professor of History, University of Kentucky
Ken Hughes, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
Jeffrey P. Kimball, Professor of History, Miami University, Ohio
Stanley Kutler, Professor Emeritus of History and Law, University of Wisconsin
Fredrik Logevall, Professor of History, Cornell University
Laura McEnaney, Associate Professor of History, Whittier College
John Prados, Senior Fellow, National Security Archive, George Washington University
Thomas A. Schwartz, Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Robert D. Schulzinger, Professor of History and Director, International Affairs Program, University of Colorado; Editor-in-Chief, Diplomatic History
Melvin Small, Distinguished Professor of History, Wayne State University

* Institutional affiliations are listed for identification only and do not necessarily represent the endorsement of the institutions. Responses to this letter may be made to Nixon Historians, c/o National Security Archive, George Washington University, 2130 H Street N.W., Suite 701, Washington D.C. 20037, nsarchiv@gwu.edu.

Related Letter: American Library Association to Members of Senate and House committees on Appropriations, Government Affairs and Government Reform, March 10, 2005

Response from John Taylor, Executive Director of the Nixon Foundation, March 10, 2005
[Originally posted on the Nixon Foundation Web site]

Statement of Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, March 10, 2005
[Originally posted on the Nixon Foundation Web site]


Background Materials

I. The Cancelled Conference

Conference Invitation

Letter: Susan D. Gotsch (Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, Whittier College) and John H. Taylor (Executive Director, Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation) to Thomas Blanton (Executive Director, National Security Archive), January 19, 2005

Letter: John H. Taylor to Thomas Blanton, informing of cancellation of conference, March 4, 2005

Related article: "Scholars Suspect a Political Motive as Nixon Library Nixes a Conference on Vietnam Era," Karin Fischer, Chronicle of Higher Education [subscription], March 8, 2005

II. The Nixon Transfer

Congressional Record: Letters on intent and objectives of amendment to Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974

INTENT AND OBJECTIVES OF AMENDMENT TO PRESIDENTIAL RECORDINGS AND MATERIALS PRESERVATION ACT OF 1974 -- (Extensions of Remarks - December 09, 2003)

[Page: E2526]

---

SPEECH OF
HON. HENRY A. WAXMAN

OF CALIFORNIA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MONDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2003

* Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Speaker, on behalf of Mr. DAVIS and myself, I would like to submit the following letters for the RECORD. They provide background on the intent and objectives of the amendment to the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974.

__________________________________________________

Richard Nixon Library
and Birthplace Foundation,

November 21, 2003.

Hon. TOM DAVIS,

Hon. HENRY A. WAXMAN,

Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR REPRESENTATIVES DAVIS AND WAXMAN: I would like to express our appreciation for your efforts to amend the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act to remove the requirement that the Presidential records of the Nixon Administration be housed in Washington, D.C. It has been more than 29 years since President Nixon left office. Bringing the Nixon Library into the federal system under the terms of the Presidential Libraries Act and at this time is clearly in the public interest.

The public interest is best served by the unfettered access for historians and the general public to the records of the Nixon Administration. We agree that current regulations on public access will continue to govern public access to these records in the future; that the records remain the property of the United States; and that the Archivist will be responsible for access to the documents at the Nixon Library. It is our understanding that papers and tapes that have been processed may be transferred to the Nixon Presidential Library once an agreement has been reached between the Nixon Foundation and the Archives, but that those records that have yet to be processed shall continue to be reviewed in a timely fashion at College Park, Maryland. Of course, the ongoing review of records at College Park should not delay the transfer to California of records that have already been processed.

The Nixon Foundation is eager to complete discussions with the Archivist in a timely fashion and looks forward to that opportunity.

Sincerely,

JOHN H. TAYLOR.

__________________________________________________

U.S. House of Representatives,

Washington, DC, November 20, 2003.

Hon. J. DENNIS HASTERT,

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. SPEAKER: Congressman Waxman and I seek to memorialize the amendment to the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act of 1974 included in the Transportation and Treasury Appropriations bill. The measure the Congress is adopting today will make clear that the Presidential Papers of Richard Nixon are eligible for transfer to the Nixon Presidential Library. Under the 1974 Act, it has not been legal to transfer these papers. The purpose of the provision we are enacting today is to move forward the process whereby the Archivist and the directors of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, will conclude an agreement on the terms of this transfer.

The provision enacted today makes clear that any agreement between the Archivist and the Nixon Library to bring the Nixon Library into the federal Presidential library system shall be, as has been the case with all other Presidential libraries, subject to the terms of the Presidential Library Act. Those records will continue to be owned by the United States and administered by the National Archives. The Archivist will not transfer any documents to California until he certifies to Congress that he has determined that there is a suitable archival facility to house those documents.

Once the Archivist agrees to accept the Nixon Library into the Presidential Library System and has notified Congress, employees of the National Archives will staff the Library, and the Archivist will be responsible for access to documents at the Library. This measure makes clear the public interest in unfettered access for historians and the general public to the records of the Nixon Presidency.

The National Archives is responsible for reviewing the recordings and materials from the Nixon Administration. This is a complicated task of looking at each document and determining if the release of that document would invade someone's privacy or endanger national security. There are concerns that transferring these materials to California would disrupt the processing of them, delaying their public release. This bill will not affect the processing of the records. Papers and tapes that have been processed may be transferred to the Nixon Presidential Library once an agreement has been reached between the Library and NARA. Those records that have yet to be processed shall continue to be reviewed in a timely fashion at College Park, MD. At the same time, that review should not in any way delay the transfer of processed records to California.

Sincerely,

TOM DAVIS

Related article: "Preparing for a Nixon Library within NARA," John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States, OAH Newsletter 32 (August 2004), Organization of American Historians

Related article: "Congress Frees Nixon Papers," Ben Pershing, Roll Call [subscription], January 26, 2004

Related article: "Nixon Records Revisited," NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE [National Coalition for History] (Vol. 9, #44; 14 November 2003) by Bruce Craig (editor)

NIXON RECORDS REVISITED

For over 20 years following President Richard Nixon's resignation, a host of legal battles focused on resolving controversial issues pertaining to the ownership and possession Nixon's presidential records. With Nixon's death in 1994, the government's purchase of the Nixon collection for $18 million, and the enactment of the Presidential Records Act in 1974, the former president's and the government's right to possession of these collections was deemed settled. Once again though the ultimate disposition of the government records emerged this last week as an issue of concern to historians, archivists, and presidential scholars.

Tucked away in the conference version of the Transportation/Treasury appropriations bill that funds the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is a provision focusing on the Nixon presidential records. The language was added to the bill with the mutual consent of Republican and Democratic Congressional negotiators.

Negotiators agreed to amend a part of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-526) that prevents the government owned Nixon tapes and papers from leaving Washington D.C. The language advances the ultimate goal of consolidating all of Nixon's personal and presidential papers and related materials at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-VA) and advanced on behalf of the Nixon library with lobbying assistance provided by the firm Cassidy & Associates, Nixon daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and former President Gerald Ford.

The inclusion of the language in the conference version of the Transportation, Treasury, and General Government appropriations bill is procedurally unusual, though not unprecedented. Legislative rules and procedures provide that, ordinarily, only those items raised in the House or Senate bill that remain unresolved may be addressed in conference -- the Nixon provision broke that rule as it was a "new" item for discussion. It was not mentioned in either the House or Senate passed versions of the appropriations bill. Incorporation of the language in the conferenced appropriations bill means that it will become law without opportunity for public hearing or a full airing of related issues, several of which remain unaddressed or unresolved.

As previously reported ("Private Nixon Library Exploring NARA Affiliation Options" see NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE; Vol. 9, #41; 24 October 2003) the Nixon Library Foundation -- the private organization that currently owns and operates the library and birthplace -- considers enactment of this measure an important first step in long-term initiative to eventually have the library/birthplace become a full-fledged NARA facility. Should this occur, the anomaly of President Nixon being the only president between Herbert Hoover and Bill Clinton to not have a government-operated presidential library would be abolished.

NARA and Nixon library officials claim that the change in the law was necessary to clear the way for the Nixon Foundation and NARA officials to begin formal negotiations that ultimately may lead to the establishment of a new NARA-operated presidential library. Nixon library and birthplace director John Taylor has indicated to the National Coalition for History that scholars will be included in discussions that are to take place in the future between NARA and the foundation officials.

It should be noted that the bill language does not specifically mandate that the papers be moved to the Nixon library (though it remains the most likely repository for the records). It merely empowers the Archivist of the United States to "transfer such recordings and materials to a Presidential archival depository in accordance with section 2112 of title 44, United States Code." This language insures that in order to move the government-owned Nixon materials, the Nixon foundation would have to meet the stringent requirements that apply for establishing NARA presidential libraries. For example, the foundation would have to provide a suitable archival facility to house the documents (estimated at 35,000 sq. feet) without cost to taxpayers. Second, once an appropriate facility is donated, NARA would have a free hand to staff and operate the archival facility to NARA standards, and presumably the library/museum as well. According to director Taylor, should the library be brought into the NARA system, the foundation would no longer run or operate the library and birthplace but would turn the facility over to the government to operate. The foundation would then focus on the fundraising/support activities that typically are carried out by non-governmental presidential foundations that currently support other presidential libraries.

After hearing that a bill was being crafted scholars expressed concern about language involving continued access to the records. To this end, the measure insures that: "Nothing in section 103 of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act...as amended by this subsection may be construed as affecting public access to the recordings and materials referred to in that section..."

At present NARA's Washington D.C.-based Nixon records project office holds a total of 46 million documents, of which 37 million have yet to be processed. By best estimates there are still three to five additional years of work needed to complete the processing of the White House tapes. In all likelihood, by the time the Nixon Library Foundation raises the needed funds and constructs a facility to house the presidential materials, the processing of the tapes would be finished. The processing of other Nixon records would still be ongoing.

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