WASHINGTON – In the face of criticism, the privately run Nixon library (search) said Friday it intends for the late president's confidential tape recordings concerning politics to be made public once the government takes over the facility next year.
The Rev. John Taylor (search), the library foundation's executive director, made the commitment following an embarrassing episode in which the library canceled an upcoming conference of historians on the topic of Nixon and Vietnam.
Some participants claimed the move was aimed at stifling debate about Nixon, and the cancellation prompted objections to Congress by the American Library Association (search) and some scholars who questioned whether the library should be entitled to federal support.
The library is scheduled to go from private to government control in February 2006.
After Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal, Congress feared he would destroy materials needed for the criminal investigation and passed a law giving the government possession of his papers and tapes.
Nixon maintained control over his tape recordings of a political nature and they have never been released. Nixon's White House taping system was in place from February 1971 through July 1973, a period that included his re-election campaign.
The Nixon foundation believes it is vital for the library to house the political tape recordings when the National Archives takes control of the facility in February 2006, Taylor said in a letter this week to Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States.
"Our intent and promise is for the National Archives to be able to make these political tapes available to the public in exactly the same way that the rest of the tape collection is being made available to the public," Taylor said in an interview.
The library at Yorba Linda, Calif., is the lone presidential library without federal funding. It is seeking $3 million from Congress to pay for the transfer of records from the National Archives in College Park, Md., to the library in California, and millions more to build a new wing to hold the materials.
"This is a big step forward," said Tom Blanton, one of the people who criticized the Nixon library for canceling the conference.
An exchange of letters between Taylor of the Nixon library and national archivist Weinstein "lays down the markers that the National Archives will hold the Nixon library to if the Nixon people are really going to measure up as a legitimate presidential library," Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private group based at George Washington University, said.