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40 Million Pages of Nixon Materials Still Secret

June 21, 1992

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Two decades after the Watergate burglary plunged the nation into turmoil, scholars are still fighting for access to tapes and papers locked up in National Archives vaults.

″They are stonewalling it,″ says historian Stanley Kutler, who is suing Archives officials for release of hundreds of hours of audio tapes that he says relate to the break-in and other abuses of power in the Nixon White House.

John T. Fawcett, director of presidential libraries for the Archives, has replied that all papers and tapes relating to Watergate are among the nearly 2,000 cubic feet of material that have already been opened to the public.

Kutler, in a telephone interview from his office at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, disputed this.

″The documentary record proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are days and days and days of conversations that discuss Watergate, for which we have no tapes,″ he said.

He said these discussions are reported in the handwritten notes of White House aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, which have been opened by the Archives.

Archives officials decline to discuss Kutler’s two lawsuits, in one of which he is joined by the Ralph Nader organization Public Citizen. Richard Nixon’s attorney, R. Stan Mortenson, said the former president is considering intervening in the suits to protect his interests.

One of the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeks access to a 27,000-page log prepared by the Archives staff that describes the contents of the tapes, stored in vaults across the Potomac River from Washington.

The Archives maintains the log is not open to public scrutiny. ″We have it locked away,″ said Clarence F. Lyons Jr., director of the Archives’ Nixon Project here.

Meanwhile, Carlos Navarre, an employee of the former president who is described in court papers as Nixon’s representative, spends an average of about three days a week at the Archives’ Nixon Project here, according to Lyons.

″He looks over what we do and does whatever review he thinks is necessary to see if there is something he thinks President Nixon should object to,″ Lyons said in an interview in his office.

″This guy has the run of the Archives,″ said Kutler. ″He’s some guy who’s got an undergraduate degree who is supposedly a big expert and can arbitrarily decide what is national security and what is personal.″

Lyons said Navarre has no role in the decision of the Archives on whether materials should be exempt from public release on national security or privacy grounds.

Navarre, in a brief interview in a lunchroom at the project, declined to discuss his duties or his background. ″I’m pretty much behind the scenes,″ he said.

Fawcett, Lyons and Mortenson said Nixon has not objected to the opening of any materials except the 150,000 pages whose release he blocked when the White House Special Files, containing papers considered especially sensitive, were opened in 1987.

Fawcett said a presidential review board of senior archivists set guidelines for review of Nixon’s objections, and the review is still going on. He said he did not know how long it would take.

Mortenson and Fawcett said Nixon has assured the Archives he will not object to the release of any material that is related to Watergate.

″We may disagree about what’s Watergate,″ Fawcett added.

The burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Building, which touched off investigations that drove Nixon from office, occurred June 17, 1972.

Kutler, author of a 1990 book ″The Wars of Watergate,″ said that when all of the tapes and documents are opened, ″I am not sure we will really learn definitively why there was a break-in.″

″What I think is that the whole revelation of the record will show the extent of Richard Nixon’s involvement,″ he said. ″Fifty years from now, we will know that it was Richard Nixon who was at the heart of the matter.″

The project holds an estimated 44 million pages of Nixon White House documents, which were seized by the government under legislation passed after Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.

More than 4 million have been made public, including about 75 percent of the White House central files. Among those remaining to be processed are many staff files and a National Security Council file. Lyons said the remaining papers include ″probably some large chunks that we will never look at, they have such minimal research values.″

Nevertheless, he said, ″after 25 or 30 years, you will find the bulk, almost all, of the collection open.″

The project, which is independent of the privately operated Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., received 771 visits from 514 researchers in fiscal year 1991.

The next opening of documents is scheduled for Aug. 22. They will range from papers dealing with medals and awards to the files of Alexander P. Butterfield, the White House aide who disclosed the existence of the taping system.