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Once-secret Watergate files released by US government

Watergate Judge John J. Sirica aided the prosecution in pursuing the White House connection to the Democratic headquarters break-in by providing the special prosecutor information from a probation report in which one of the burglars said he was acting under orders from top Nixon administration officials, according to once-secret documents released Friday by the National Archives.

One newly public transcript of an in-chambers meeting between Sirica, the U.S. District Court judge in charge of the case, and then-Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in July 1973 shows the judge revealed secret probation reports indicating that E. Howard Hunt had cited orders from officials high up in the Nixon administration. Several of Hunt's co-defendants had previously denied any White House involvement in court testimony, and Sirica told Cox and other prosecutors that he felt the new information "seemed to me significant."

The government released more than 850 pages from the Watergate political scandal, providing new insights on privileged legal conversations and prison evaluations of several of the burglars in the case. A federal judge had decided earlier this month to unseal some material, but other records still remain off limits.

The files do not appear to provide any significant new revelations in the 40-year-old case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and criminal prosecutions of many of his top White House and political aides. But the files provide useful context for historians, revealing behind-the-scenes deliberations by Sirica, the A man's wife was killed in a plane crash.

Sirica refused to put the trial on hold unless there was proof Hunt was suffering from a serious medical condition, according to the transcripts. "If he is just emotionally upset, that, in my opinion, is not a valid excuse," Sirica said. "If he gets tired during the day, I will arrange for him to go down and take a rest for two or three hours if he wishes."

A doctor who examined Hunt said in a letter to Sirica in early January 1973 that he suffered from ulcers and other gastrointestinal ailments but "has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer." The doctor, Charles E. Law Sr., said he was worried that Hunt would weep in court, especially when questioned by prosecutors.

Reports from prison psychiatrists and probation officers also show that four of Hunt's co-defendants justified their role in the Watergate break-in on national security grounds, saying they were under orders to search for evidence that Cuban government funds supported Democratic party campaigns. Dean said Friday that Hunt once told him that excuse was a ruse used to persuade the others to participate in the burglary.

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