Understanding Watergate

A test of a nation’s commitment to transparency and self-government comes in how it explains to succeeding generations the more difficult or controversial moments of the past.

Watergate is one such moment in our nation’s history — and a topic that is now more fully explored at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Last week, I attended the opening of the Watergate Gallery at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. The new permanent exhibit chronicles the events beginning in June 1971, with the leak of the Pentagon Papers and the formation of a clandestine White House group known as the Plumbers, and ends with former President Richard Nixon’s public explanations of Watergate after he left office. The exhibit is designed to help visitors make sense of the web of personalities as well as the actions and intentions at the heart of the Watergate scandal.


A portion of the new Watergate Gallery at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

The Nixon Library arguably holds the fullest record of any Presidential administration in history with approximately 4,000 broadcast videos, 4,500 audio records, 30,000 gifts, 300,000 photographs, 2 million feet of film, 46 million pages of documents, and 3,700 hours of presidential conversations known as the “White House Tapes.”

The new exhibit on Watergate uses documents and records from Presidential, Congressional, and Special Prosecutor’s records as well as the reflections of many involved in the era, including President Nixon. A detailed list of the materials used in the exhibit as well as recorded oral histories are both available on the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum website.

Since 1974, the Nixon presidential materials have been maintained by the National Archives under the authority of the Presidential Records and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA). In July 2007, the Nixon Library became part of the Federal Presidential Library system. In February of this year, we moved the last of Richard Nixon’s Presidential records from College Park, Maryland to the Nixon Library. I encourage you to learn more about the history and chronology of the Nixon presidential materials as well as explore the records that have been released to the public.

Although Watergate captivates our attention, it is only one chapter in the complicated legacy of our 37th President. Other galleries in the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum show the significant changes he made in the nation’s social, political, and economic structure, along with historic breakthroughs in foreign affairs — with the Chinese, the Soviets, and in the Mideast. Over the next few years, we plan to update many of these galleries to reflect changes in museum technology and the release of new information.

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One thought on “Understanding Watergate

  1. Researchers should be aware the there are additional oral history interview transcripts available which were conducted during 1987-1988 by members of the NARA’s Nixon Presidential Materials Project staff (NLNS). James J. Hastings then was director of NARA’s Nixon project. The link to oral history interviews in your post does not include these. However, I found an older link via Google.

    See the 2003 press release issued during the tenure of NLNS director Karl Weissenbach in 2003 and the listing of released interviews:

    NARA Press Release, April 2, 2003: http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2003/nr03-33.html

    List of oral history interviews available as of 2003: http://nixonlibrary.gov/forresearchers/find/histories.php#1987

    I believe it is important to note the existence of these interviews, for a number of reasons. I’ll mention one. The then NLNS tapes unit supervisor, Frederick J. Graboske, and his colleagues were able to interview Watergate principals such as H. R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman. (I did the transcript for the former while I still worked at NLNS.) Both Haldeman and Ehrlichman had died by the time NARA revived its OH program under Tim Naftali’s tenure.

    The quotation about two-way communications and organizational cultures that I used under your first blog post in April 2010 came from the Hastings-era interview we did with Roy L. Ash (http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus/?p=11).

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