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In newly released grand jury testimony, Nixon leaned on familiar national security tropes

Richard Nixon is perhaps the best-known outed liar in history. In 1975, the year after he resigned in disgrace and was lifted away from the White House in a helicopter, the ex-president gave testimony before a grand jury investigating his administration. University of Wisconsin professor Stanley Kutler recently persuaded a federal judge to release the transcript for its public educational value. A quick scan of the trove of documents reveals a Cold War defense of secrecy, where Nixon leans on his idea of America’s special role as defender of freedom in the world to lie to his questioners. The line of argument will strike a familiar note to critics of Bush-Obama national security policies that have run over concerns for government accountability, civil rights and individual liberties.

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“Now in making this appearance, I should point out that I am taking into consideration a very profound belief, that I have expressed publicly on many occasions, in the vital necessity for the confidentiality of presidential communications,” Nixon said in an opening statement. “It seems to me today that when we pick up the papers, and particularly in recent weeks, and read of former presidents, President Kennedy, for example, President Johnson, even President Eisenhower, being accused of approving or participating in discussions in which there was approval of assassination of other people is very much not in the national interest, and probably it is, of course, not true.”

There were no drones back then targeting untried suspected enemies of the U.S., but there were approved assassination attempts, as Nixon well knew.

Nixon expands on the need for secrecy:

“Nevertheless it makes the point very strongly that I am going to make right now, and that is that in the Office of the Presidency of the United States, the nation, which is, not by choice, but by the destiny of history, the most powerful in the free world and the only guarantee of peace and freedom in the world, it is necessary for the president to have no- holds-barred conversations with his advisers.

It is necessary for his advisers to believe that they can give him their unvarnished opinions without regard and without fear of the possibility that those opinions are going to be spread in the public print. It is necessary for them to feel, in other words, that they are talking to the President and that they are not going to the press and that is the reason why confidentiality, which I know, not perhaps you gentlemen, but some of the members of your staff, and certainly some of the members of the House and Senate, and most of the members of the press think is not important. That is why it is important and, in my opinion, absolutely vital. That is the reason why I have resisted in the courts, unsuccessfully up to this point, attempts to impinge upon the privileged status of such conversations.”

The transcripts are available for Scribd perusing or download here.

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