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Reagan Papers, Under Wraps a Year, Are Released

Presidency: Aides' memos are part of the 8,000 pages of documents made public. Thousands more are due by April.

January 04, 2002|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight thousand pages of documents from the Reagan presidency were released Thursday, a year after they were scheduled to be made public.

Among the documents unveiled at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley are memos from advisors, including Elizabeth Hanford Dole and Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, as well as papers dealing with agriculture, energy and economic policy, said library director Duke Blackwood.

An additional 60,000 pages that also were to be released in January 2001 are expected to become available by early April.

"We are pleased any time we can open additional documents," Blackwood said. "Our mission is ready access to the information."

In one of the memos released Thursday, Elizabeth Dole wrote in 1982 to three Reagan advisors that the president's image as a "man's man" was hurting him with female voters.

"While this characterization has been helpful with men, it may have worked to his detriment with regard to women," Dole, then special assistant to the president for public liaison, wrote in the handwritten draft.

"An often-heard question is whether the president takes women seriously."

Not all scholars were satisfied with Thursday's release. Many are frustrated with the current administration for repeatedly postponing release of the papers. Late last year, the Bush administration gave former presidents greater power to withhold papers of their choosing beyond the 12-year period set forth in the Presidential Records Act. The act covers papers that contain confidential advice and information.

Hugh Graham, a Vanderbilt University historian who is organizing a conference of Reagan scholars in Santa Barbara this year, said the decision to release the 8,000 pages is a public relations move meant to quell criticism over that executive order.

"It's a gesture so that they can say, 'See, we're good guys, we're producing these documents and everyone can come look at them,' " Graham said. "They're trying to get the monkey off their back. But it's not going to get us off their backs."

An attorney for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said the organization will continue to pursue a legal challenge of the executive order.

Meanwhile, Blackwood said he expected researchers to descend on the library in the coming weeks to examine the newly released papers. He said the presidential library holds 45 million to 50 million pages; 4.5 million pages have been made public.

Graham said he plans to inspect the papers himself.

"It's probably good stuff by definition," he said. "But it hasn't gotten any better since last January, when it was supposed to be released. It's only gotten older and many of us have gotten bogged down in our research. That's very frustrating."

Lawyers for the Bush administration have denied historians' accusations that the president wants to tie up Reagan's papers because of what they could reveal about advisors in the current administration.

Former Reagan aides working for President Bush include Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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