A New Fight Over Nixon and Watergate

The war over Watergate never ends. The latest battle is over a decision by the Nixon Presidential Library to commemorate this week's 37th anniversary of the Watergate break-in by inviting an especially provocative speaker: John Dean, the former White House lawyer who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after testifying about his boss's role in the cover-up. The invitation from the library—which is now run by the National Archives—has outraged Nixon's dwindling loyalists, who have mounted a lobbying campaign to get the event canceled. "This is in poor taste," says Robert Odle, a former Nixon communications aide. "It's like having Monica Lewinsky speak at the Clinton library on the anniversary of President Clinton's impeachment."

The privately run Nixon Foundation, whose board members include Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Nixon's daughters, Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox, is spearheading the anti-Dean campaign. In recent weeks it has sent letters to all the living presidents urging them to join its protest, warning that such "irrational and unbalanced" programming could dry up donors to their libraries. (None of the ex-presidents has weighed in, according to archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper.) The foundation also rescinded $150,000 in pledged funds for two library exhibits, including one commemorating the Apollo lunar missions during Nixon's presidency, though Cooper said the archives has approved extra funds so they can proceed. Foundation spokesman Richard Quinn described Dean in an e-mail as a "disbarred lawyer and convicted felon" and said the group wants more "non-partisan balance" at such events.

Caught in the crossfire is historian Timothy Naftali, who took over as the library's director two years ago when the Nixon library was handed over to the publicly run archives. Naftali said foundation officials have essentially compiled "an enemies list," noting that they also complained about his decision to invite ex-Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste to speak this summer. "That's totally unacceptable," Naftali said, noting that Dean was a "serious participant" in Watergate events. Dean, for his part, seems to relish the flap and says he can't wait to unveil what he claims are damning new details about Nixon's Watergate role, which he culled from his research into the White House tapes. "They're going to be particularly unhappy when they hear what I have to say," he told NEWSWEEK.

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