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The Region

Nixon Daughters Campaigning to Bring Father's Papers Home

They join with Gerald Ford in pushing for a new presidential library to house items on the site of the current facility.

January 01, 2003|Phil Willon | Times Staff Writer

Richard Nixon's daughters have joined with former President Ford in a new push to bring Nixon's White House papers, including the infamous Watergate tapes that led to his political downfall, to his presidential library in Yorba Linda.

Getting the documents would give the library -- which is sometimes mocked for its pro-Nixon tilt -- more credibility in academia. It is the only privately run presidential library in the country and the only one that does not possess the presidential papers of its namesake. The other 10 libraries receive federal funding and have federal archivists maintaining the presidential papers.

Plans to move the archives to the Nixon compound have been discussed sporadically for decades. But earlier efforts were derailed by a bitter court fight over the custody of the papers, which Congress seized in 1974 to keep the disgraced ex-president from destroying them.

With that controversy long settled, Nixon's daughters would like to see their father's White House records moved from a government facility in Maryland to a proposed new presidential library in Yorba Linda, on the site of what is now the privately run Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace. The nine-acre site is the home to a museum and a collection of Nixon's pre- and post-presidential papers.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Nixon's younger daughter, in an interview that airs tonight on CNN's "Larry King Live," said Ford has pledged his full support to correct what he considers the unfair treatment of Nixon.

"He told me he's going to make it one of the last goals of his life to bring the Nixon Library into the federal system," said Eisenhower, a Nixon Foundation board member. "Not because we need the money and have to have it, because we're doing fine. We've been very entrepreneurial -- we don't receive the $2 million a year the other [presidential] libraries do -- but because my father shouldn't be outside the system."

Despite the new effort, bringing the papers to Yorba Linda faces major hurdles.

The National Archives and the Nixon Foundation would have to negotiate an agreement -- one that would probably require some form of congressional approval. Moving the collection to Orange County also would be expensive. Presidential libraries are staffed and maintained by federal archivists, but raising money for the building itself has traditionally been left to the president's supporters.

"We're deeply grateful to President Ford to put this on the front burner, but at this point it's in the very, very preliminary stages," said John Taylor, executive director of the Nixon Library & Birthplace, in an interview Tuesday.

Both Taylor and National Archives spokeswoman Laura Diachenko said that there are no negotiations at this point and that none are planned. However, Taylor said the publicity over comments by Ford and Nixon's daughters might rekindle the issue.

"The logical next step would be for National Archives to indicate it was interested in having this discussion," Taylor said. "My feeling is the ball is probably in their court."

Ford was not available for comment Tuesday.

The collection of Nixon's papers at the National Archives facility in College Park, Md., includes 44 million pages of written records, 4,000 hours of White House audiotapes and a mammoth collection of photographs, videotape and film records. The collection has been a valuable resource for scholars and researchers studying the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Cold War, as well as Nixon's landmark visit to China and other foreign policy achievements.

Until he died in 1994, Nixon fought in court to reclaim his presidential papers, saying the materials were improperly seized. In 2000, the federal government agreed in a settlement to pay $18 million to Nixon's estate.

During the settlement discussions, attorneys for Nixon's estate and officials from the National Archives tried to reach an accord that would have created a taxpayer-funded home for the papers in Yorba Linda. Those talks broke down, however.

During her interview on CNN, Eisenhower also addressed her highly publicized rift with her sister, Tricia Cox, over control of an estimated $20-million bequest to the Nixon Foundation from one of the late president's closest friends, Charles "Bebe" Rebozo. Eisenhower wanted the money to be controlled by the foundation's board. Cox argued that Rebozo's will stated that Nixon's daughters and Nixon friend Robert Abplanalp had to oversee the gift.

A settlement was reached in August during court-ordered mediation talks.

"We had a disagreement, and I think that when you're in the public eye, whenever you have any little minor or even a more significant disagreement, sometimes it can be blown out of proportion.... It's completely resolved," Eisenhower said.

"When you have a parent who is president, your parent belongs to history. But it's still your dad, and you have very strong feelings about how you remember him or how you want him remembered. And lots of times, the family may not agree."

The bequest will more than double the funds available to support the current Yorba Linda library. It's still unclear if that money will help bring Nixon's presidential papers to Orange County.

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