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Judge Delays Further Release Of Nixon Watergate Tapes

August 9, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge barred the National Archives on Monday from releasing any more tapes of former President Nixon’s Watergate conversations until it returns recordings of private conversations to Nixon.

The order by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth could delay future releases of Watergate-era tape recordings made in the Nixon White House for five to 10 years while the Archives complies with the order.

The ruling came on the 19th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, as the House was preparing to impeach him for trying to cover up the Watergate scandal.

Lamberth granted Nixon’s request for a preliminary injunction, halting the scheduled release Friday and on Aug. 26 of a total of four hours of Watergate conversations recorded in July and August 1972.

He also held that any future releases could not take place until the Archives abides by the terms of a 1979 settlement with the former president and the explicit direction of the Supreme Court in 1977 to promptly return recordings of personal conversations to Nixon.

The high court gave those instructions in a ruling that upheld a 1974 law that gave the Archives possession of the Nixon White House papers.

″We are now in 1993. Not one bit of that material has been given to Mr. Nixon,″ Lamberth said in a ruling from the bench. ″The government has not to this date complied with that directive.″

While the public would benefit from the speedy release of the Nixon tapes, he said ″the public’s interest is best served by requiring the government to fulfill its legal obligations.″

Lamberth also ruled that further releases could not take place until the Archives processes the 4,000 hours of White House tapes for release as a ″single integral file.″

Nixon’s lawyers had objected to the piecemeal release of snippets of Watergate conversations, some no longer than 10 seconds.

They argued that the dialogue could be taken out of context from what else was being discussed at the time.

The Archives decision to ″dribble out the Watergate information at a piece at a time″ violates Nixon’s rights to have all the tapes released at one time, Nixon’s lawyer, R. Stan Mortenson said.

Patti Goldman, a lawyer for the Public Citizen Litigation Group that sought release of the tapes, said the injunction could delay further release of Watergate tapes by five to 10 years. She said she would appeal the ruling or seek to modify it.

″Obviously we are dismayed that we cannot release important information that will help the public understand Watergate,″ said Archives spokeswoman Shirley Clarkson. ″We are reviewing the decision and we will decide later about whether to appeal the judge’s decision.″

Only 63 hours of the 4,000 hours of Nixon White House tapes have been released by the Archives to the public and researchers.

In May, the Archives released approximately three hours of White House conversations recorded by a secret taping system in the first of a series of contemplated releases of Watergate material.

It was the first time the public was able to listen to tapes of conversations between Nixon and his aide after the June 17, 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building.

The release included the 18 1/2 -minute gap in the tape that Nixon contends was inadvertently erased by his secretary, Rose Mary Woods.

Nixon’s lawyers went to court last month to stop further releases, arguing that they violate the former president’s right to privacy.

Mortenson did not argue that any of the tapes the Archives planned to release this month contained private conversations. But he argued that Nixon’s privacy rights were being violated because the Archives had given no priority to returning to him recordings of strictly personal conversations.

Lamberth also cited an internal memo by acting U.S. Archivist Trudy H. Peterson, released to Nixon’s lawyers, that said the decision to release edited snippets of Watergate conversations violated the longstanding agreement.

Peterson ″fails to explain the reason she has changed her position,″ Lamberth said.

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