- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thirty-five years after Richard Nixon testified secretly to a grand jury investigating Watergate, a group of historians has launched a legal bid to make public what the president said under oath about the break-in that drove him from office.

Nixon was interviewed near his home in San Clemente, Calif., for 11 hours on June 23 and 24, 1975, 10 months after he resigned. It was the first time a former U.S. president testified before a grand jury, but the 297-page transcript remains sealed from the public.

The historians have filed a petition before Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of U.S. District Court here arguing the historical significance outweighs arguments for secrecy with the investigations long over and Nixon dead for 16 years. They argue that unsealing the interview could help address ongoing debate over Nixon’s knowledge of the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office complex and his role in the cover-up.

The testimony is especially important because Nixon was speaking under the threat of perjury, said Stanley Kutler, who filed the petition this week along with four historians’ organizations. Mr. Kutler, author of “Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes,” successfully sued to force the release of audio recordings Nixon secretly made in the Oval Office.

But not all Nixon historians support release of his testimony. James Rosen, author of “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate,” says not enough time has passed as it had in the Hiss case when the main figures were long dead.

“In this case, President Nixon’s chief accuser John Dean remains very much alive,” said Mr. Rosen, a correspondent for Fox News. “The court should wait until all participants in Watergate have died before making public the testimony..”