- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center opening today includes small alcoves dedicated to numerous themes and scandals, including Mr. Clinton’s Whitewater hearings and impeachment trial.

But President Nixon’s library features Watergate, the debacle that led Mr. Nixon to resign, as its largest exhibit. Even Ronald Reagan’s presidential library includes a video of him admitting to wrongdoing in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The Nixon library prominently details the political struggle between him and a Democratic Congress. The historic impeachment tapes hang on the walls of the Yorba Linda, Calif., gallery, and tour guides urge patrons not to shy away from examining its contents.

Some of the tapes are played for visitors, including the “smoking gun” conversation on June 23, 1972, when the president is first told of White House Counsel John Dean’s idea to pressure the FBI to abandon the investigation of the Democratic National Committee break-in at the Watergate building.

“Call the FBI and say that we wish, for the country, don’t go any further into this case, period,” Mr. Nixon told his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

Another exhibit says Mr. Nixon stopped the plan two weeks later, and admits he was connected to the cover-up, but not the crime that led to his resignation and near-impeachment.

That exhibit begins with the break-in on June 17, 1972, to plant bugging devices to spy on Democratic campaign operations, and goes through a congressional investigation and charges of impeachment passed by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974, which led to his Aug. 9 resignation. Mr. Nixon is the only president to resign, forestalling an impeachment vote by the full House and a trial by the Senate.

The key figures in the Watergate scandal are identified in photographs, including Mr. Haldeman and Attorney General John Mitchell.

“Nixon himself said he made inexcusable misjudgments during Watergate,” the exhibit says. “But what is equally clear is that his political opponents ruthlessly exploited those misjudgments as a way to further their purely political goals.”

The gallery is designed to show how a president was toppled by a “third-rate burglary” and includes a photograph of Mr. Dean testifying in front of the congressional panel.

Mr. Nixon kept a reel-to-reel tape recorder in his desk that was installed for him by the CIA in an attempt to record history. Those tapes were used against him, however, and the White House was forced by the Supreme Court on July 24, 1974, to surrender the tapes.

The mystery remains as to what was said during an 18-minute gap of tape, for which Mr. Nixon’s personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, was later blamed, and two missing tapes. Pictures show men carrying stacks of transcripts of the 64 tapes into the Capitol for the Watergate hearings .

The gallery “doesn’t shrink from one of the biggest political upheavals in the 20th century,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said of the Nixon exhibits.

The first presidential library was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y., for the purpose of preserving presidential papers. Over the years, presidential collections have expanded to memorabilia, including gifts from foreign dignitaries.

The Reagan library also addresses the main scandal of its eight-year administration, the Iran-Contra scandal, when the administration secretly sold weapons to Iran and used the proceeds to arm Contra rebels fighting against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Mr. Reagan’s famous speech taking full responsibility is shown in the introductory video, and a “book on the wall” draws from presidential papers explaining the scandal.

“It’s more important that we let the president speak for himself, and we will add to it,” said the library’s chief curator, John Langellier.

Only the first term of Mr. Reagan’s presidency is highlighted in the gallery, while millions of documents and pictures will be available for research, including on the Iran-Contra affair.

“History with warts and all in the long run is what we have to present to the public. It’s important we try not to skew the information and tell the story, so you can make up your own determination on the final analysis,” Mr. Langellier said. “Presidents make mistakes. They are real people.”

Researcher John Sopko contributed to this report.

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