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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Q&A: TAMU system prof unveils Nixon recordings

Luke+Nichter

Luke Nichter

Phillip Martinez, city desk writer, sat down with Luke Nichter, a Texas A&M University — Central Texas professor and coauthor of the recently published book, “The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972.”
THE BATTALION: What influenced your desire to research former president Richard Nixon’s life?
Nichter: As a graduate student, I was looking for a new and interesting thesis topic that had never been done before. Since presidential records often take 30 or more years to be available to the public, I started to look at what was being released. The more I looked, I saw that for whatever reason no one had written about Nixon, so that was the first stop on my journey.
THE BATTALION: What was a goal of yours when transcribing these tapes?
Nichter: I’ve been able to compile all of these transcriptions on a website, nixontapes.org. He recorded around 3,700 hours of his phone calls, secretly of course, and much of that has remained unavailable to the public. So the ultimate goal is to follow up to the Supreme Court’s ruling on United States v. Nixon in 1974. In that case, the Supreme Court decided Nixon could not use his executive privilege to block a subpoena. So the Supreme Court decided the tapes belonged to all of us, not just to Richard Nixon. I think people should be able to go to a place other than the Nixon Library or National Archives, and what better place than a dedicated website? Eventually, I’m hoping to have all of the transcripts in addition to the audio we have right now.
THE BATTALION: Why are many of Nixon’s documents and conversations still classified?
Nichter: Well, there are different types of restrictions. ‘Classified’ refers to matters of national security. There are only around 200 hours of the 700 to 800 unreleased that have that classification. They get reviewed periodically, and I think the last time they were reviewed was 20 years ago. At that time, those documents were still vital for national security, but they may not be today. Now there are restrictions on very personal conversations about a certain person, and those may be held until said person is deceased. Another type of restriction may come by the president’s estate, which can object to the release of certain documents and recordings. Ultimately, the National Archives should release all of them, but it’s always a compromise.
THE BATTALION: Have you been surprised by the findings of your research? If yes, how so?
Nichter: Oh sure, lots of times. He’s just as bad as his worst critics say he is, and he’s just as brilliant as some of his defenders claim, and many others claim somewhere in between. I don’t think he’s completely bad or all good. I think like most of our presidents there are things we admire and things we don’t admire, and of course it depends upon your political persuasion. Now of course, it is okay for us to be critical about him for the Watergate scandal, but it’s also okay for us to give credit for his achievements as well. For example, improving our relations with China, arms talks with the Soviets and finally ending the Vietnam War. Now my job is not to editorialize Nixon, it’s to provide the information to people so they can form their own opinions.
THE BATTALION: What do you recall about the former president?
Nichter: Well, I was born in 1977, so I never had a chance to see him on television since his presidency had already ended. I think that has caused drawbacks for me, since I do not have firsthand experience, but I think the positive side of that is that it has given me a sort of “professional distance” between the subject and me. Now I do think most people with direct experience have written the history about Nixon. They lived through a terrible time in history and by not living through that time period, I believe I am much more even-handed in how I see Nixon. It gives me a very balanced perspective.

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