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Views Emerge in Rift Between Nixon Sisters

March 20, 2002|STUART PFEIFER, JOHN J. GOLDMAN and PHIL WILLON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In her first public comments about the legal feud with her sister, Julie Nixon Eisenhower said she was distressed about the dispute but said she is acting in the best interests of her father's library.

"It's very heartbreaking because I love my sister very much," Eisenhower told about 1,000 people Monday night at a speaking engagement in Redondo Beach. "I've had a terrible weekend, but I am here."

The rift between Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox, the once-tightknit sisters who caught the nation's attention during the Nixon White House years, was revealed in a pair of lawsuits the Nixon Foundation recently filed to collect a bequest from the late Bebe Rebozo, a longtime friend of the former president.

On Tuesday, Cox's attorney accused library officials of dividing the sisters in an effort to gain access to Rebozo's bequest.

"This has been heartbreaking for Tricia that the library has sought to drive a wedge between the sisters by commencing litigation based on false allegations and then trying the case in the press," said Richard Grabowski, an Orange County lawyer representing Cox.

"It is fair to say what the library is trying to accomplish through this litigation is trying to overturn the explicit wishes of Mr. Rebozo."

The dispute over the bequest, which is estimated to be worth as much as $20 million, is rooted in a deep philosophical divide over who is best suited to preserve the Nixon legacy.

Eisenhower, 53, wants the foundation board to control the money. Cox, 56, adamantly disagrees, saying Rebozo wanted his gift in the hands of the Nixon family.

Eisenhower on Monday spoke briefly with her older sister, saying she was crushed that the disagreement spilled into court. But Eisenhower said the foundation needed to take legal action to ensure that it retains control over the bequest.

"All I want," she said, is for the money to be spent on the library. Her comments came four days after the sisters' legal battle became public.

But friends and library officials said the feud has been going on since the mid-1990s. Several sources close to the sisters said they have barely spoken for several years.

Rebozo, who made millions in Florida real estate and other ventures, left 65% of his estate to the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace under the caveat that all expenditures be approved by Nixon's daughters and another longtime Nixon friend, Robert Abplanalp.

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Times staff writer Holly Wolcott contributed to this report.

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