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Nixon Wanted Baker for Court Seat

December 18, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Then-Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., was President Nixon’s first choice for the Supreme Court vacancy that eventually went to the current chief justice, William H. Rehnquist, according to evidence presented in court.

The revelation is contained in Nixon White House tapes, disclosed for the first time as part of lawsuit by the former president’s estate seeking $210 million from the government in compensation for his papers, tapes and photos.

Appraiser Steve Johnson, testifying Thursday on behalf of the state in U.S. District Court, said he spent 150 hours listening to selected tapes at the National Archives and preparing notes for the trial.

Among them was an Oct. 21, 1971 conversation between Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell.

``The president talks with Mitchell about Baker as the president’s first choice for Supreme Court nominee, but the president then changes his preference to Rehnquist while Mitchell is trying to contact Baker about his response to the offer,″ Johnson said in his notes. ``Baker calls back later than scheduled with a positive response. Too late for the president.″

Nixon announced his selection of Rehnquist for the post that same day. Rehnquist was sworn in as an associate judge in 1972, and fifteen years later became chief justice.

The case is the latest in a series of lawsuits over Nixon’s collection of 42 million pages, 3,700 hours of secretly recorded tapes and thousands of photographs.

After Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment over Watergate, Congress passed a law seizing what he left behind and putting it in the National Archives. That legislation also determined that future presidents’ documents would belong to the government after they left office.

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