Yesterday afternoon, the Government Printing Office and the National Archives and Records Administration announced the public release of President Richard Nixon's Watergate grand jury testimony. Federal grand jury proceedings typically remain secret, but last September historian Stanley Kutler petitioned the U.S. District Court in D.C. for the Nixon transcripts’ release, citing their substantial research value. On July 29, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth granted the petition, agreeing with Kutler in his 15-page order that “[t]here is no question that the requested records are of great historical importance…[disclosure] would likely enhance the existing historical record, foster further scholarly discussion, and improve the public’s understanding of a significant historical event.”
The grand jury records have been reviewed and some information has been redacted from the public release in order to protect the privacy of certain named individuals. Still, even a redacted release is undeniably valuable for researchers, and may mark the beginning of increased public access to federal grand jury proceedings of similar historical importance. As the Blog of Legal Times reported last month, Attorney General Eric Holder recently recommended a change to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which if adopted would clarify the procedures for releasing historical grand jury proceedings. Under the model described in Holder’s letter to Advisory Committee Chair Judge Reena Raggi, proceedings could be eligible for public release after 30 years with a court order, and after 75 years such records would be available through regular archival access procedures.
Only time will tell if this proposed approach to grand jury proceedings becomes the norm (though you can learn more about the F.R. Crim. P. revision process in our Court Rules research guide and track this suggestion’s progress on the U.S. Courts’ Federal Rulemaking page). In the meantime, the newly-available Nixon Grand Jury Records are posted online via the Government Printing Office's FDsys. As always, Ask a Librarian for help with locating our many resources on Richard Nixon, the Watergate era, or court records.