Richard Nixon Library Gets Watergate Overhaul: 'Let the Historical Chips Fall Where They May'

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It's billed as Richard Nixon, warts and all -- with no more sugarcoating of the Watergate scandal that cost Nixon his presidency.

The Richard Nixon Library here has unveiled what it says is a vastly expanded and more balanced Watergate exhibit, one that library director Tim Naftali said will "let the historical chips fall where they may."

"The public deserves non-partisan history for its taxpayer money," Naftali said of the exhibits, run by the National Archives since coming under federal control in 2007. "When you come to the library, you'll see a commitment to honesty and transparency."

The once-privately owned library came under fire after the Richard Nixon Foundation opened it in 1990 and displayed what some historians denounced as a swayed view of Nixon's presidency. The part of the library on the Watergate scandal had paltry documentation and portrayed mostly Nixon's perspective of the story, including a view of Watergate as a "coup" by Nixon's rivals.

But the new $500,000 makeover unveiled today brings new presidential papers to the forefront and adds oral histories by 131 historical figures, many involved with the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation on Aug. 8, 1974.

Visitors can see burglar tools allegedly used to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex and a listening device tied to the scandal.

They can hear the editing clicks on audiotape where 18 1/2 minutes of White House recordings possibly pertinent to a Watergate cover-up infamously got erased.

The library now has 40 hours of interactive content on display that Naftali calls "iPad history." Clicking on a display called "dirty tricks," visitors can listen to Nixon ordering Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., investigated.

In short, the new permanent exhibit aims to be historically accurate and not to spin history in Nixon's favor.

"I didn't have to compromise my training as a historian," Naftali said.

The oral histories include accounts by figures such as G. Gordon Liddy, one of the Watergate burglars, as well as John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson, Nixon aides who went to prison over the scandal.

Richard Nixon Library Overhaul Dissenter: 'This Is His Place. He's Buried Here.'

Not everyone agrees with the overhaul.

Nixon White House aide Bruce Herschensohn told The Associated Press that Nixon's point of view should have remained in place at the 37th president's library, of all places.

"I can only come to the conclusion it [the federally revamped exhibit] will probably be a hit piece," he said. "This is the Nixon library. This is his place. He's buried there ... and so is Mrs. Nixon."

Presidential Documents Preserved and Destroyed

There is a deep-rooted history in "presidential papers" -- documents created during each U.S. president's term.

Many blamed the Nixon Library's original misrepresentation of the Watergate scandal on the fact that Nixon's presidential documents were being held by the National Archives under federal law, with many of the documents classified.

In 1974, after the Watergate story broke, Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act to keep Nixon from obtaining and destroying his presidential papers.

Nixon sued for his Fifth Amendment rights, but to no avail. He was the first president who did not have private rights to his presidential papers.

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