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Washington judge orders some Watergate-era court records unsealed; history prof seeking them

Some documents sealed in the 1970s as part of the court case against seven men involved in the Watergate burglary must be released, a federal judge in Washington says.

U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth said in a two-page order Friday that some materials being sought by a Texas history professor should be released. He gave the National Archives and Records Administration a month to review and release the materials.

Luke Nichter from Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen wrote the judge in 2009 to ask that potentially hundreds of pages of documents be unsealed. Nichter also runs a website cataloging secret recordings made by President Richard Nixon in the White House.

He says the court records could help explain the motivation behind the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters that ultimately led Nixon to resign from office two years later.

Attorneys for the U.S. government said earlier this year that they would not oppose the release of some of the files.

But government attorneys argued that three categories of documents should remain secret: those containing personal information, grand jury information and those regarding the content of illegally obtained wiretaps.

Lamberth agreed Friday that those documents should remain sealed for now. But he ordered the Department of Justice to copy those documents and explain why each should not be made public. The department has a month to submit that information to the judge who will then decide whether to order the information released.

The records Nichter is seeking relate to the case of U.S. v. Liddy. The case involved the five men arrested during the Watergate break-in as well as the two men who orchestrated the operation, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt.

Nichter said in a telephone interview Friday that Lamberth's order unsealing the records is exciting, but he doesn't know whether they'll provide any major Watergate revelations.

"One of the things about being a historian is you're always filling in gaps in your knowledge," he said, adding there "are still so many unanswered questions about Watergate."

Lamberth has unsealed Watergate documents before. In 2011 he ordered that a secret transcript of Nixon's testimony to a grand jury about the Watergate break-in be made public.

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Jessica Gresko can be reached at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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