The Real Issue at the Heart of the Weinstein Controversy
Maarja Krusten is a historian and a former National Archives Nixon tapes archivist.Here's a cautionary note describing a possible backstory for questions about Allen Weinstein's nomination as U.S. Archivist.
I have not found helpful some of the rhetoric that has surrounded the issue of Dr. Weinstein's nomination. Some of it undoubtedly is well intended. But keep in mind that past discussions of public access to government documents have used inflammatory and partisan rhetoric. As an historian and former archivist, I have found some of it downright scary. I suspect I am not alone in reacting that way among people in my profession. Some of that troubling rhetoric derives from articles published in the past by the American Spectator and by the Washington Times, both of which I will cite in a moment.
In an op ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 14, 2004, Jacob Heilbrunn wrote, "Weinstein has become a target for scholars who despise Bush and for those who continue to insist that Hiss was never a spy for the Soviet Union and want payback." But not everyone raising questions about the nomination is a leftist. Some of the questions have more to do with the forced removal of the incumbent archivist than about Prof. Weinstein's scholarship.
For me, as someone who experienced external pressure while
employed by the National Archives from 1976 to 1990, incumbent Archivist John
forced removal is particularly troubling. The legislative history of the National Archives independence bill that Congress passed in 1984 originally contemplated a set 10-year term for the U.S. Archivist. The intent was to provide protection against removal for political reasons. Although the provision dropped out of the bill in conference, there still has been an expectation that the Archivist will serve ten years. Hence Carlin's stated intention to remain on the job through June 2005.
The Chicago Tribune reported in the fall of 2000 that a Bush campaign official asked Archivist Carlin to delay until after the presidential election a long planned release of historical segments of the Nixon tapes. The campaign's concerns reportedly centered around conversations dealing with George H. W. Bush. The Archivist already had worked through the release with Nixon's family, which had signed off on the historical disclosures. The Archives released the tapes as planned in the fall of 2000.
This could not have endeared the agency to the Bush officials who had asked for delay. But I believe they lacked the historical detachment to view the public access issues properly, then or now. The Archives was following a regular schedule of tape disclosures which had started in the early 1990s. And the segments relating to the elder Bush were innocuous and definitely releasable under statute. Moreover, they formed only a tiny portion of the tapes release. From my viewpoint, the Bush campaign's intervention was unnecessary and may have sent a chilling signal to the Archives. I believe Governor Carlin acted courageously in proceeding with the tapes release. From all that I can tell, he has been doing his job properly. So his removal now is very troubling.
There are other things that have nothing to do with the Archivist nominee himself that might make historians and archivists uneasy in the face of the seeming ideological split over Dr. Weinstein. For example, around the same time that the White House asked Archivist Carlin for his resignation, Congress passed legislation which will transfer Nixon's records from the National Archives annex in College Park, MD, to the library in California which presently is run by the Nixon Foundation.
Take a look at Nixon foundation director John Taylor's article, "Cutting the Nixon tapes," in the American Spectator, March 1998. In describing the Archives' release of Watergate tapes, Taylor starts out writing, "The Nixon-haters have finally had their bacchanal. In November 1996, 201 hours of Watergate tapes--every minute of the 3,700 hours of Nixon White House recordings that archivists believed related to a presidential abuse of power--were opened to journalists and researchers by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)."
Taylor makes some good points about the need to remember that Nixon was a war president. (A personal note: as a member of Young Americans for Freedom during my college days in Washington, I remember how lonely it was walking around campus wearing a Silent Majority button during the war.) But Taylor undermines his article with his heated rhetoric and sneers at the Archives.
The law directs the Archives to reveal "the full truth" about Watergate abuses. Nixon sought to limit tape disclosures to the sixty-three hours subpoenaed by the special prosecutor in 1973. But we archivists identified new information about Watergate during the 1980s. Taylor, who served as Nixon's chief of staff in the post-White House years, described his anger when "we were told that the Hardy Boys at NARA had kept a little list -- 201 additional fun-filled hours of their own greatest hits." NARA didn't open those tapes until 1996, two years after Nixon died. Taylor sneered, "The archivists have done their worst."
How were those tapes finally released? The story is not reassuring. In December 1991, historian Stanley I. Kutler wrote to the National Archives, asking when its Nixon Presidential Materials Project planned to open Watergate portions of the Nixon tapes. Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries John T. Fawcett replied in January 1992 that all integral file segments relating to abuses of power in tapes and documents had been released. He told Kutler that as far as tapes releases were concerned, the National Archives might release Cabinet tapes next (although not immediately).
Working level archivists were stunned by what Fawcett told Kutler in January 1992. The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act called on the Archives to disclose at the earliest reasonable date "the full truth about governmental abuses of power" known generally as Watergate. We knew full well that, although there were questions as to whether they constituted a "single integral file segment," some 200 hours of Watergate related conversations still remained undisclosed to the public.
On March 19, 1992 Dr. Kutler filed a lawsuit against the National Archives in federal court for public access to Watergate conversations (Kutler v. Wilson, Civ. A. 92-0662-NHJ). I testified in the lawsuit. My recorded testimony contains an assertion that I believed that had Mr. Fawcett responded differently to Dr. Kutler's initial inquiry, there might have been no lawsuit.
On May 13, 1994 the Washington Times characterized Fawcett and two other officials, as "strong proponents of limited access philosophy, particularly Mr. Fawcett, who was responsible for administering the Presidential Records Act." The Washington Times took a strong stance in support of Mr. Fawcett and against Acting U.S. Archivist Trudy Peterson, and failed to properly present Dr. Peterson's views.
I and many archivists greatly respect Dr. Peterson. The Washington Times mentioned disputes between Mr. Fawcett and Dr. Peterson over President Reagan's Presidential records and archival policy. The Archives' Inspector General (IG) looked at the issues and found that Dr. Peterson's interpretation was correct. Moreover, the IG found that Mr. Fawcett's interpretation was "clearly contrary to the plain language and stated congressional intent of the Act, and would have prevented timely public access to public information in the Presidential Records at the Reagan and subsequent libraries." (NARA OIG Report 94-05, 9/2/94) Curiously, although the Washington Times slammed Dr. Peterson in its reporting and on its editorial page, it never reported the results of the IG's report.
Several of the Presidential Library foundations voiced their views on the policy disputes between Fawcett and Peterson. The Washington Times in 1994 noted a comment from "James W. Cicconi, vice president of the Bush Presidential Library Foundation. 'There are obviously deeper policy differences involved.'"
Cicconi's name cropped up again in 2000. He reportedly was the official who contacted the Archives when Governor Carlin was about to release segments from the Nixon tapes. The Chicago Tribune reported on October 27, 2000 that "The National Archives on Thursday released 430 more hours of Richard Nixon's secret White House tape recordings, despite attempts by former President George Bush to delay the release to avoid possible embarrassment to himself and to his son's presidential campaign. The National Archives confirmed late Thursday that James Cicconi, an attorney who represents Bush, his foundation and library in dealings with the archives, requested . . . that the long-planned release be delayed or postponed. In addition, sources indicated that what was perceived internally as pressure from Cicconi preceded the call. . . . " Other news reports cited concerns expressed by the younger Bush's campaign officials over the pending tapes release. The unsuccessful attempt to delay the Nixon tapes release in 2000 may have played a part in George W. Bush later issuing an executive order which strengthened the ability of former Presidents and their families to halt historical disclosures.
Fawcett retired from government service in 1994 and has since been mentioned in at least one book. Scott Armstrong, writing in Athan Theoharis's book, A Culture of Secrecy, claimed that "in historical circles, Mr. Fawcett had become notorious for consistently taking the side of former presidents and the entourages they left in charge of the political management of the presidential libraries. Many of his colleagues at the archives were also worried that Fawcett's deference to past presidents might lead him to abandon the archives' obligation to ensure the preservation and accessibility of government records."
In the battles over presidential records Fawcett was joined by his former boss, Archivist Don W. Wilson, who, according to the Washington Times, argued that "government officials need a certain amount of confidentiality to function." Wilson served as U.S. Archivist during the first Bush administration. Most confirmed or acting U.S. Archivists have returned to the academic world after retiring from government service. They typically work as professors, deans, or as consultants who are not associated with a particular political party. After stepping down as Archivist in 1993, Don Wilson followed a different path. He took a job with the Bush foundation. Wilson served as Executive Director of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation at Texas A&M University from 1993 to 1999.
Many people in archival circles believe Wilson is one of the people behind Bush's nomination of Dr. Weinstein. I have no independent corroboration of this. However, Allen Weinstein has worked with Don Wilson so it is worth looking at his background. Wilson is connected to Allen Weinstein through the Mary Baker Eddy Library, where they both serve as trustees. If Wilson is a mentor of Weinstein's, will there be a return to the public access policies followed by Wilson and by his appointee, John Fawcett?
Like Wilson, Fawcett also has worked with issues relating to Republican presidents' libraries since retiring. Fawcett reportedly served as a consultant to Baylor University in the possible formation of a future George W. Bush Library. He also reportedly has served or still is serving as a consultant to John Taylor and the Nixon Foundation.
My generation of government archivists, the people who remember President John F. Kennedy's call to public service, is aging and many of us soon will be eligible to retire. Younger archivists who are just starting out hear so much in the media from politicians about culture wars and partisan perspectives. Are they prepared to fight the tough battles inside the Archives on behalf of nonpartisan and objective screening of records that we once fought? I think it would be useful for them to hear historians say that some issues transcend ideology and party loyalty. Unfortunately, thus far, mine seems to be the only voice saying that in public forums. For the most part, the others keep re-hashing the old right-left wars about Alger Hiss, etc, although a few point to larger vulnerabilities. This is not helpful. And, in fact, given the troubling rhetoric in the American Spectator and the Washington Times that I've described in this posting, it probably is harmful. Certainly, a seeming right and left split over Dr. Weinstein cannot be reassuring to the people now working in the National Archives. Their very ability to perform their mission depends on a nonpartisan, nonideological approach to their work.
This article first appeared on the list run by Professor Richard Jensen.
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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Thanks for all the background info and good luck in your endeavors, ;) P.K.C.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Sounds like a heck of a mess. Worse than I had imagined, even having seen a bit of archival incompetence in action, and having an inkling of the general & growing challenges of non-paper based records and more efficient erasure of government docs by their creators. I know the AHA has been on this for years, and I suppose Carlin is writing his book (everybody seems to be writing a book this year), but few outside the history profession pay much attention to AHA, it seems. For the benefit of the wider world (maybe including the grumpy retirees, arm-chair history buffs, part-time college lecturers, and poli-sci+journalism students who occasionally stumble around this website), bring on the big exposés of NARA.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Thanks again for your efforts and info, Maarja.
I think I asked for this on the earlier "debate" article page, but don't remember it being answered: Can we have a capsule resume of Mr. Weinstein ? The questions in my mind being; (1) does he really have the sort of background and previous experience that qualifies him for the job ?, (2) how does his c.v. compare with those of predecessors in this respect, and (3) could this be yet another of the myriad examples of the GW Bush administration trying to politicize every bureaucracy it can lay its incompetent and corrupt hands on, from top to bottom ?
As for the lack of response from other readers here, I think that is mainly a result of it being vacation time.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
I fully respect your reticence (as a federal employee) to discuss politics, not to mention the personal frailties & failings of certain federal politicians, but for my less encumbered self, am reluctant to completely rule out occasionally calling a spade a spade. When the issue at hand involves politicization of something that should not be politicized, one can only go so far without discussing the politics of those perpetrating the unwarranted politicization.
My "characterization of the administration", as you diplomatically put it, is based, among other things, on (Republican) John Dean's recent book "Worse than Watergate". With a lawyer's skill, he makes a very firm case that the obsession with secrecy of the current administration goes beyond anything seen in the last 50 years in this country. That ought to be a serious concern to anyone involved with or dependent upon open access to historical governmental archives, whether or not that concern can be publicly discussed. I recommend the book, heated rhetoric, warts, and all.
Based on the web page you referenced for Professor Weinstein, I withdraw my suspicions about him being unqualified to run NARA. In contrast however, I consider it quite unlikely that diligent and objective future historians of 2000-04 will be in much doubt as to the track record of the current president. It is not a matter of visceral ideology or “left-right” splits (even if many Republicans are vocally outraged at what has recklessly been done to their country and their party in their name), it is matter of historical fact, which cannot be completely ignored, even here where the topic of discussion ought to be distinctly different.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
This has been an enlightening conversation for me, but I gather the questions that concern you most have not had much light shed on them. Nor, I am afraid, were there good grounds to hope for such illumination, except in the highly unlikely event that some of Weinstein's colleagues who know him personally, were regular readers and posters to HNN (and not on vacation this week).
But your real “beef” seems to be with the "forced removal of Carlin" (I suppose the position is too high up to be protected by civil service rules ?). That is absolutely an unavoidably political question of the kind I described above (political discussion being required in order to remove politics from arenas where it does not belong). Instead of trying to read tea leaves re Weinstein, why not go to the heart of the issue ? Draw up a petition to Congress insisting on restoring the originally planned fixed 10 year appointment clause, with whatever minor nuances or alterations are deemed suitable. Circulate it amongst your archivist friends and neighbors, and send it with a background article to AHA Perspectives, the Historical Society, H-net, etc.. You may not get many Congress people enthused (at least not before the election), but you're bound to get better feedback and comment than from HNN.
And -as long as I am up on the high horse now anyway- let me just suggest that if you want to keep politics out of history, drop immediately and irrevocably all such nonsense as "Republican scholars" or "Democratic scholars". Scholarship is scholarship, it ultimately stands or falls based on its merits, not its politics.
To be sure, academic historians are certainly wont to go on at length about this historiographical "school" versus that historiographical "school", all outmoded and discredited of course and based on blinders from prevailing hegemonic ideologies of their times and Zeitgeister and “tropes” and “subaltern identities” etc. etc., (before trying to demonstrate how their own scholarship is innovatively different and above it all). This generally matters not too much in the long run. When it comes to basic methodological questions, such as preserving and permitting access to government documents, ideological schools of thought should not even be in the vicinity of discussion. Keeping a well-run archive under the professional management of an objective and competent archivist with reasonable job security is not something you agree or disagree about based on whether you believe, for example, in fiscal irresponsibility (like Republicans) or racial discrimination (like Democrats).
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
This is a helpful article, which goes against the pattern here by seeking to rescue history from politics rather than to bury history with it. I will look forward to the book.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
I do not believe in letting silly labels "stick", nor in recycling them into less silly but still incorrect labels.
Scholars fairly often misuse scholarly findings for political purposes. Sometimes the research itself, or its interpretation or its presentation is deliberately slanted for political purposes. Certainly there are historians who are active Democrats, and those (a smaller percentage - for many reasons not pertinent to your main issues) who are active Republicans. This does not mean that the clothes they wear, the churches they go to, or the books they write are Republican clothes, Republican churches or Democratic books.
Galileo argued with the Catholic Church, but his discovery that the earth orbits the sun and not vice versa was science, not Protestant Science or Atheist Science. Jefferson, we now know, was indeed a philanderer, but that does not make the Louisiana Purchase a Sinful Treaty, nor the research that proved his affair with Hemmings, Mulatto Genetics.
If I "misunderstood", and you meant "scholars who are Republicans" rather than "Republican scholarship", etc. then please simply adopt the suggestion, no further questions asked, and I apologize for being HNNingly impolite. If, on the other hand, you really believe that SCHOLARSHIP itself subdivides into Republican Scholarship versus Democratic Scholarship, well you then certainly have the right to your opinion and would be consistent in rejecting the idea that to thusly bifurcate human intellectual output makes no sense. But in that latter case, why post numerous articles and comments here and on other sites bemoaning how a Republican president is removing a Democratic archivist to replace him with a more pliable Republican or neo-Republican archivist ?
I don't think you can have it both ways, Maarja. Either make the case against politically-motivated appointments at NARA on its merits (as I think you have mostly done) or let "Democratic scholarship" and "Republican scholarship" duke it out while the public interest hopes for some scraps of attention on the side, and most of the actual public snores away.
You seem to yearn for a bi-partisan response to a partisan (or at least dubiously motivated) act of a politician. I think you are in for a long wait. Why not just toss the politics out completely, since it ought to have no place in non-elective government service anyway? That is what the battle over Civil Service reform 120 years ago was mostly about, if memory serves correctly. I suppose it is also the underlying reason why you write so many internet pieces, which often seem to dance around what you really want to say, rather than just draft one direct-and-to-the-point open letter to Congress. (Depending on your time constraints, you could however still do a book -like the CIA agent “Anonymous”. It would help those of us able to be publicly politically active to be better informed, before doing what you are not allowed to do.)
It is, in my judgement (as already indicated above), an entirely separate question why more academic historians are Democrats than Republicans. I will not burden you with my incomplete theories as to the answer except to assert that it has approximately nothing at all to do with who does or does not read or respond to internet postings, or with the fate of one of hundreds of annual presidential appointees.
Maarja Krusten - 8/16/2004
Check the University of Maryland website for the perspectives of archival studies graduate students on Allen Weinstein. See
which includes a summary followed by analysis and impressions from several graduate students who attended the Weinstein hearing on Capitol Hill in July 2004.
Maarja Krusten - 8/14/2004
I do not believe full access to Presidential Studies Quarterly is available except through the subscription Proquest service. I recently posted an extract from my 1996 Nixon tapes article in the Quarterly on another thread on HNN. Please see
for the extract, which raises some troubling questions about deletions from the Watergate tapes and the subsequent handling of a public access lawsuit.
Maarja Krusten - 8/14/2004
The correct link for my HNS article is
Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2004
Peter, Of course, I did indeed mean scholars who are Republican and scholars who are Democrat. And no I do not believe there is "Republican scholarship" and "Democrat scholarship" whatever that might mean, anyway.
And yes, I accept the rebuke that I dance around some issues in my many postings. I have to, for self preservation, for reasons I cannot explain in a public forum. It is hard enough to speak up and to put myself on the firing line in Washington as it is, and I've been steeling myself to do it repeatedly since 1992.
And yes, it would have been nice to draw a bipartisan consensus from HNN that the National Archives' intellectual independence should be preserved and the agency not be politicized, whether that is the intent with this Archivist nomination. (The intent and the result are as yet unclear. But the vulnerabilities certainly are there, as I have described at length.) But, as one of my former Nixon Project bosses wrote me this morning, "Maarja, you are ever the idealist." Perhaps too much so for a government employee. Certainly after 31 years federal service, you'd think I'd know better. Ah well, guess I'm a slow learner.
Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2004
The sentence "you feel that that represents a full spectrum of Democrats and a Republican, good for you" should read "you feel that that represents a full spectrum of Democrats and Republicans, good for you." Sorry for the typo!
Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2004
My, I wouldn't dream of characterizing anyone's comments on HNN as nonsense. Rather, I would ask them to explain further. As it is, you misunderstand entirely my use of the terms Republican and Democrat scholars. The antecedents lie in Richard Nixon's assertion while he was alive that most history is written by liberal historians and that they would not treat him fairly. There began the battles over the Nixon records. If scholarship is scholarship, why was he worried that he would be treated unfairly?
Consider also the constant complaints among conservatives that academic historians are overwhelmingly liberal. For example, there is this question and answer in the April 12, 2004 issue of TIME, in an interview with William F. Buckley:
"BEING A CONSERVATIVE USED TO BE LONELY WORK. WHAT'S IT LIKE NOW? Different. There is a family out there, and a movement, and some very brainyscholars. Not everywhere, of course. At Harvard, I was recently informed by Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, there is not a single professor who backs Bush. He modified that later; he had been guilty of conversational hyperbole. But he pointed to a curious and continuing division in thought between faculties in the elite colleges,and humble folk like you and I."
If scholarship is scholarship, why has the supposed liberal quality of most academics been such an issue with subscribers to the Jensen List? Why has it been the subject of debate on Conservativenet? Just check out its archives.
Finally, consider John Taylor's unfair description of Stanley Kutler as "dean for life" of the Nixon haters. Isn't that an attempt to politicize issues? Are you suggesting when people such as Taylor fling such labels, that we simply ignore it and allow the labels to stick. I don't think so! The fact remains that the only historians who have spoken up to defend the National Archives are Stanley Kutler, Joan Hoff, and Anna K. Nelson. If you feel that that represents a full specturm of Democrats and a Republican, good for you. I don't and I'm still wating for others to step up to the plate.
As for petititions, etc., I'll remind you again that I'm a government employee and there are certain constraints in what I may do. I've laid out the issues as I see them, that was my intent. The battle now is yours, HNN readers, here and in other forums! Good luck with your future scholarship in the National Archives of the future, it's yours to help shape now!
Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2004
Thanks for taking my gentle rhetorical rebuke so well, LOL. And thanks for the thoughtful postings. I already have read John Dean's book, "Worse Than Watergate," and even posted a quote from it to the Archives and Archivists List earlier this year.
As to the perceived right left split, my concern centers on the perception problem. Why is it that over the past 10-15 years, scholars associated with liberal politics, such as Stanley Kutler, have spoken out boldly to defend the intellectual independence of the Archives, while Republican scholars have sat silent? I find that silence worrisome and under the present circumstances, ominous.
I sent Prof. Jensen a link yesterday morning to my posting "for Republican readers of HNN," but he did not post it on his moderated board, Couservativenet. Yet I am trying to find out where Republican scholars stand on public access issues. The country is so partisan these days. Does that affect their ability to set aside whom they voted when they assess questions of public access to Presidential records? Do they believe in timely access or deferred access? As I pointed out yesterday, most of the records under control of the PRA and the PRMPA are those of Republican presidents.
I know that Dr. Weinstein states that he is a registered Democrat. But has he been affected by the bitter fights over his Hiss and Haunted Wood books? Was it wise of the administration to nominate in the first place someone whose scholarship focused on a divisive issue from the recent past?
I do not know Dr. Weinstein personally, have never met him, but have heard privately from a couple of people who do. What I have heard has not settled the issues for me, at all, or I would not be posting so much. So, I am trying to figure out if he is influenced by particular ideologies and if so, whether he will be influenced by them, what is there to be learned from his past track record in dealing with archival issues, in practice and in theory, whom he has turned to for advice on archival issues, etc. The recent paper trail is surprising silent on these questions. I find it curious that he now has to reach back 30 years to quote positions on access to presidential records. Times have changed and a lot has happened since the passage of the presidential records statute!
Those questions are more important than the mere fact that he is an academic historian. Governor Carlin took considerable heat at the time he was nominated as U.S. Archivist, even from me, but from all that I have heard, turned out to be a good U.S. Archivist because he listened to and worked well with the archival experts on his management team. There is nothing in Dr. Weinstein's background -- or that of many other academic historians -- that would provide clues as to whether or not he can do that well.
From what I have seen on message boards, Listservs, etc., academic historians often seem to take entrenched positions and can be very competitive rather than collaborative with colleagues. So, oddly enough, I do not necessarily find the nomination of someone from such a background to be especially reassuring. The environment is so diferent from that in government, where you face political pressure but have an obligation to consider "the greater good." So a background in academe and working at a foundation, simply provides no assurance of whether he will support subordinate employees in the face of political attacks on them.
To return to the point of my original article, the forced removal of Carlin is deeply troubling and lies at the heart of much of the concern over the Weinstein nomination. An archivist from Cornell, who is a past president of SAA, posted this on the Archives List yesterday:
"It is clear that the process the White House has followed to replace the current archivist has raised serious concerns about the independence of the position. If Weinstein really cares about the responsibilities of the Archivist, why hasn't he withdrawn his name from consideration? No one who wants to protect the position of the Archivist would want to accept the position under these circumstances - thus setting a dangerous
precedent. The mere fact that Weinstein is willing to let the nomination go forward is not a good sign."
Maarja Krusten - 8/11/2004
Dr. Weinstein's bio is posted at the website for his organization, the Center for Democracy. See http://www.centerfordemocracy.org/awbio.html . I do not know why his answers to the 42 questions asked by the Senate committee have not been webposted by anyone to date. I heard today that one organization I know of is planning to post them soon. I have them in hard copy only and the parts I've read worry me some. I don't have time to post much more at the moment, however.
As to your comments about the Bush administration, as a current Fed, I am not in a position to respond one way or another. As an historian, I can say that various Presidential administrations in the modern age have had their individual underlying philosophies and approaches to governing. Scholars generally have noted the consistent throughlines in them. As to the words you used to characterize the Bush administration, didn't I say in my original article that the seeming right - left ideological split and heated rhetoric have not been helpful to NARA, LOL?
I'm afraid that the lack of response by Republicans to this thread coupled with your characterization of the administration will only reinforce the existing stereotypical views. Surely there are scholars out there who are not viscerally anti-Bush, or who like I consider themselves centrist or moderate, but who still support a nonpartisan, nonideological, intellectually independent National Archives! I voted for Reagan twice and it does not stop me from supporting archival independence in the processing of his records. If there are few others out there like me, NARA is in for some tough times, indeed!
Maarja Krusten - 8/11/2004
In the posting above, American Standard is an error, the name of the publication should read as The American Spectator. Sorry. This post sent by Smartphone on personal mobile during my lunch break. For reason why (and an example of apparent pressure tactics within gov't) see http://snipurl.com/8da1
Maarja Krusten - 8/11/2004
As someone who voted Republican during the Cold War (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H. W. Bush), I feel I can raise this sticky issue. It's kinda like a "Nixon goes to China" thing. As a current federal employee, I do not find it prudent to reveal my more recent voting record. . . .
I believe that the most troublesome issue here is one that is "off the table" in governmental circles. It is the underlying but unacknowledged reluctance of former Presidents to accept the concept of public control. (Remember, until Watergate, presidential records were considered by custom to be "personal property." Presidents Hoover through Carter donated selected portions of their records to Presidential Libraries under deeds of gifts which permitted them to set access restrictions.)
Perhaps some of the issues center on the relatively short restriction periods and early disclosure requirements of the 1978 Presidential Records Act. As I noted elsewhere on Richard Jensen's List, we are a nation of law. If there were a general consensus among the stakeholders -- including scholars and other public researchers -- that the restriction periods should be lengthened, that certainly would be a more up front way of dealing with the issues than what we Nixon records archivists experienced. Subverting the law, either by applying hidden pressure on the Archivist, or by bypassing rules and regulations, is unseemly. It also places conscientious government employees in a terrible position.
Although I and my colleagues fought to ensure what we viewed as regulatory compliance, our efforts cost some of us dearly. I have mentioned elsewhere Joan Howard, the NARA supervisory archivist who was removed from her position during 1989-1990 after she courageously joined us in protesting what we viewed as backchannel acceptance by the Archives of tape deletions from Nixon. The protests are described in detail in the court record of Kutler v. Wilson and in Sy Hersh's article in the 12/14/92 New Yorker.
Here's the tricky part for Republican scholars. Starting with Reagan, the papers of three former or incumbent Republican presidents have fallen under the Presidental Records Act of 1978. Add Nixon and the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act and that makes four Republican Presidents whose records are supposed to be under public control. Of Democratic Presidents, only Clinton's fall under the PRA. (Carter was the last President whose papers follow the old "donor restricted" personal property standard that was applied before passage of the PRA.) For whatever reason, and unfortunately for Republican scholars, most of the pressure on the National Archives against public disclosure of historical records has come from Republican or right leaning sources (the Reagan Justice Department, The American Standard, the Washington Times). And most of the arguments for public accountability and statutory disclosure have come from scholars such as Stanley Kutler.
Had there been some Republican voices supporting the Archives' efforts to apply nonpartisan, nonideological standards to screening Nixon's records during the 1980s and early 1990s, archivists might not be feeling so uneasy right now. I have done literature searches looking for thoughtful assertions of support for NARA's nonpartisan mission from Republican scholars but have been unable to find any such articles. Historians in general seem to know little about the legal and ethical struggles archivists have undergone (see my post on "re books needed above.") If anyone knows of articles about NARA and access to Presidential records written by scholars who are widely recognized to be Republican or moderate in their politics, please post the sources here!
Maarja Krusten - 8/11/2004
Thanks very much for the interesting posting, Mr. Clarke. I agree that there is much about the National Archives (NARA) that is unknown to historians and the public. NARA desperately needs help and support from its constituents (historians) yet most of them know little about its problems. You can tell how new all this is to HNN readers by the lack of postings in reply to my article. I have thrown out so much new information and so many suggestions for more reading, people still are trying to absorb and asses all this. The issues require so much more specialized knowledge of laws, regulations, governmental dynamics, and internal agency battles than the more general topics usually debated on HNN.
I have been wondering for some time about historians, as my source note posted above shows that there are plenty of red flags on the public record. But few have noticed them. Of academic scholars, only Joan Hoff and Stanley Kutler have taken the time to write articles and books which mention some of the challenges that the Archives faces. Dr. Hoff mentions me and some of my former colleagues in her work on the Nixon issues.
My lengthy and detailed postings here are an attempt to fill some of that knowledge gap for historians. As to books, only one former U.S. Archivist, Robert M. Warner, has written a book. Dr. Warner and I know each other, I respect him a lot. Although very interesting, Warner's book is way out of date now. Warner's book is called Diary of a Dream: A History of the National Archives Independence Movement, 1980-1985. For more informnation, see http://www.archivists.org/catalog/pubDetail.asp?objectID=887 which is a link from the Society of American Archivists (SAA).
The Society of American Archivists maintains a Listserv for "Archives and Archivists." Its archived postings are available at http://listserv.muohio.edu/archives/archives.html . Anyone who looks at the archived postings will notice that National Archives (NARA) employees almost never post there -- except for brief informational notices -- although many of them subscribe to the list and read the list messages. Given the hot nature of many of the politically charged issues, it is wise for NARA employees not to go on the record with their opinions while still employed by the government.
Ever since issues arose in the fall of 2003 with the transfer of the Nixon records, I have been a very frequent poster to the SAA's Archives List. Even archivists outside NARA know little about the National Archives' vulnerabilities and I have received many off-list private messages thanking me for explaining the issues.
As to Dr. Weinstein, here is a note I posted to the Archives List yesterday:
"The more I think about this statement from Dr. Weinstein, the more uneasy I feel. He said recently about assessing the effect of disclosing presidential
[BEGIN WEINSTEIN QUOTE] " The answer is not a generic 'yes' or 'no' but a calibrated measurement of the 'opposed ideas'--expedited versus measured access to pivotal recent presidential documents to be determined on a case-by-case basis. And how wouId I "balance these interests," should I be confirmed as Archivist? The answers are far from obvious: through careful staff work laying out the options available; by close consultation with all the major interested stakeholders--Administration
officials, Congress, historical and archival groups, media, et al--and in the end, coming to a decision that best serves the broader public interest and remaining available to any and all stakeholders, favorable or otherwise to the decision, to defend it." [END WEINSTEIN QUOTE]
But many issues of expedited vs. measured access are addressed by [that is, in] statute, not by his named stakeholders. [That is, whether you relese records early or hold them back from public disclosure is less discretionary than his statements imply]. Indeed, some of his stakeholders are less historically objective than others. And archival standards are supposed to be applied equitably and uniformly, not formulated anew on a case by case basis. What he says sounds ok on first reading but could take NARA down a slippery slope of selective disclosure. Or lead to political pressure which might even lead (again) to items being stuck in "archival purgatory."
I do not know whom [he] has consulted on access policy beyond the people named on record. I am looking for more of his public writings on this. If anyone knows of additional recent writings by him on this, pls let me know off-[Archives] List.
Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2004
Leonard's comments refer to actions taken outside the Archives. not to screening by NARA archivists. Msg sent by mobile in transit.
Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2004
Here is another extract on public access to presidential records from Dr. Weinstein's prepared responses to the Senate committee this year.
[BEGEIN WEINSTEIN QUESTIONNAIRE EXTRACT] "'The test of a civilized intelligence,' F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, 'is the ability' to keep two opposed ideas in the mind simultaneously while retaining the ability to function.' By this standard, which in Washington has a great deal to recommend it, those in government service (including the Archivist of the United States) who deal with the issue under examination--'public access to presidential records'--must surely strive to maintain Fitzgerald's double vision. They are in the continuous business of seeking appropriate balance between a robust and thorough openness toward the release of presidential records while recognizing the constraints often present on complete or early release. I described the dilemma this way in a New York Times "Week in Review" article over two decades ago:
'Now honoring the integrity of the historical record is the primary obligation for all of us. Therefore, maximizing the measure of openness of information is also an obligation. But no Federal historian would be a Federal historian without recognizing an obligation to examine the legitimate concerns and purposes of one's employers in either the release or the non-release of records. Unlike other historians, Government historians are often both researcher and administrator of the records being researched."'" [END WEINSTEIN QUESIONNAIRE EXTRACT]
I wonder how much Dr. Weinstein actually knows about the details of archival review procedures. Archivists apply set guidance and standards uniformly when they are reviwing reviewing records for public release. For example, if Valerie Plame's name requires protection, an archivist would withhold it from release under any circumstances. Which party controlled the White House or the Congress and how others in government felt about its nondisclosure would not come into play.
Standards for release or restriction of information are not as variable as Dr. Weinstein's answer would lead one to believe. An archivist would restrict information for privacy or mark it for release, as appropriate, whether it related to Mr. Joe Average Citizen or Ms. Presidential Daughter. As is the case with Freedom of Information Act screening, archival review is supposed to be nonpartisan, objective, and equitable. The political affiliation or social status of an individual should not be used to gauge what can or cannot be released to the public. Nor should the political advantage of releasing information, perhaps to embarrass an opposition party, come into play within the Archives.
Case law comes into play as well. The courts have found that public figures and private citizens have somewhat differing rights in certain areas. And the courts also have noted that executive confidentiality erodes with time.
Clearly, problems occur when standards are not applied uniformly. William Leonard, director of the National Archives' information security oversight office, recently spoke about classification of information by the government. He explained how some agencies classify too much and sometimes mark as secret information that shouldn't be classified in the first place. He cited the Abu Ghirab report in his speech, noting that information cannot be classified to conceal violations of law or to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency. He asked, "exactly from whom are we keeping the information secret," adding that "we are obviously not keeping it secret from the detainees."
Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists pointed out Leonard's speech to Jack Shafer of Slate magazine. Shafer wrote on June 23, 2004 that:
"Leonard attributes what he calls an 'epidemic' of leaks to the press to the dysfunctional classification system, which has recently taken to using the war as an 'excuse to disregard the basics of the security classification system.' Leaks are coming out of the 'highest levels of our government' (the Valerie Plame affair); a former Cabinet secretary is alleged to have handed off classified material to a book author for publication, and the classification machine is operating so poorly down at Guantanamo Bay that a chaplain was publicly charged with pilfering secrets on his computer and then released. 'The problem [Leonard] has identified is that the currency of classification is being devalued by questionable, sometimes suspiciously self-serving secrecy actions,' writes Aftergood in e-mail. 'This produces an erosion of security discipline, which in turn fosters an environment in which leaks are more likely to come about. The net result is bad security policy and bad public policy.' (See http://slate.msn.com/id/2102855/ )
Dr. Weinstein notes that in considering release of presidential records for public access, "The answer is not a generic 'yes' or 'no' but a calibrated measurement of the 'opposed ideas'--expedited versus measured access to pivotal recent presidential documents to be determined on a case-by-case basis." Because he refers mostly to consulation with stakeholders, such as "administration officials, Congress, historical and archival groups, media," his answers provide little assurance as to how archival standards will be applied uniformly should he become U.S. Archivist.
Maarja Krusten - 8/9/2004
I am home on leave today and thus have time to post supplemental information. (Yes, people who do not like the way I have spoken out in the past have indeed kept track of when I work on particular issues!! Washington can be a really fun place to work....)
Allen Weinstein's confirmation hearing on the Archivist nomination in July was a public hearing. His answers to the "pre-hearing questionnaire" were made available to those present. Regarding Presidential records, Weinstein hearkens back in his answers to what he wrote at the time Congress passed the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
A quick read of the questionnaire does not show him addressing the stark contrast between the ideals expressed in the PRA and in the Nixon records act and the reality we archivists faced in trying to open the disclosable portions of the Nixon historical tapes and documents for public research. Ideally one can balance the interests of all the stakeholders and reach a proper outcome. But the Archives does not operate in an ideal world, protected from political pressure. The struggle to release Nixon's records is a case in point.
Nixon's lawyers first argued that the Nixon records act singled him out unfairly. When the Supreme Court did not agree, they then suggested that non-Watergate information in the tapes be held back from disclosure for 25 years or until after Nixon's death. When the courts did not agree with that view, Nixon's lawyers next attacked the Archives' regulations. Nixon's lawyer, R. Stan Mortenson of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, argued in 1987 that the Nixon records act's regulations were "capricious and constitute an abuse of discretion . . . the regulations too narrowly define 'private or personal' materials as those 'relating solely to a person's family or other non-governmental activities.'" His letter was released under the Freedom of Information Act and a copy made available in the Nixon Project's research room during the late 1980s. (See
http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=39022#39022 more on this issue.) Finally, the Nixon lawyers attacked the archivists who had worked to prepare the Nixon tapes for public access. For example, they implied that the Archives' tapes project supervisor was biased against Nixon. He was not. A Vietnam veteran, he had voted for Nixon in 1968 and 1972.
The National Archives took custody of Nixon's tapes in 1977. In 1987, archivists finished screening the 3,700 hours of Nixon tapes for public disclosure. Yet at the time Nixon died in 1994, a mere 63 hours had been opened to the public. Clearly, the Archives faces a tough road in opening controversial records while the parties of interest still are alive. The environment is far from ideal and in my experience, "calibrated measures" hard to come by.
Here is part of the answer Dr. Weinstein gave in 2004 on presidential records. While he speaks of balancing competing interests, it was my experience as an Archives employee that the forces pushing to limit disclosure, such as pressure from former Presidents and their families, are far stronger and more influential than those exerted by historians seeking release of disclosable historical information.
Dr. Weinstein noted in part in his pre-hearing questionnaire in 2004 that "In a Washington Star article I wrote in 1978 ("Time to act on public access to presidential, and other papers") . . . I recognized that accelerating access to presidential records would probably decrease the degree of candor in the deliberations of presidents and their advisors. However, I raised this question: "WouId the 'actual harm' done [to a candid presidential decision-making process]...be so great that the trade-off would not be in the public interest?" The answer is not a generic 'yes' or 'no' but a calibrated measurement of the 'opposed ideas'--expedited versus measured access to pivotal recent presidential documents to be determined on a case-by-case basis. And how wouId I "balance these interests," should I be confirmed as Archivist? The answers are far from obvious: through careful staff work laying out the options available; by close consultation with ail the major interested stakeholders--Administration officials, Congress, historical and archival groups, media, et al--and in the end, coming to a decision that best serves the broader public interest and remaining available to any and all stakeholders, favorable or otherwise to the decision, to defend it. On the tough calls, nothing less complex and focused should be acceptable to the Archivist of' the United States and his NARA colleagues."
Maarja Krusten - 8/9/2004
A doctoral thesis written by Lynn Scott Cochrane in 1998 suggests that John T. Fawcett may be concerned about the impact of early disclosure of records on Presidential Libraries. In her dissertation, Cochrane relied heavily on interviews with John Fawcett. She noted, “the ever-present criticisms from journalists and scholars who want collections open immediately will linger on, despite the potential for such an approach to endanger privacy and archival preservation efforts.” Cochrane also noted that
“Fawcett expressed grave concern over NARA’s relatively new mission statement, which invokes the phrase ‘essential evidence.’ Previously, NARA’s mission was to be an impartial custodian and preserver of our country’s historical documents. Providing immediate access to ‘essential evidence’ is an entirely different mission, one which will be a huge disincentive for federal employees to save documents and other ‘evidence’ of their work, not to mention donors who will be unlikely to hand over materials which can and will be used against them in short order. If we take the longer view of preserving materials for eventual historical analysis, the current emphasis raises serious doubts about whether there will be any real richness of materials for historians 100 years from now to study.”
Since she deliberately excludes the battles over the Nixon materials from her dissertation, Cochrane does not attempt to reconcile these views with the statutory requirement that material relating to Nixon-era “governmental abuses of power” be opened at “the earliest reasonable date.”
In my testimony in Kutler v. Wilson in 1992, I mentioned the Archives' Nixon project archivists' disputes with John Fawcett over a concept then described to me as putting historical materials in "archival purgatory." Cochrane does not mention these disputes.
See Lynn Scott Cochrane, “The Presidential Library System: A Quiescent Policy Subsystem,” available on the Internet as of December 11, 2003 as
Maarja Krusten - 8/9/2004
If anyone is interested in reading articles in the public record on some of these issues, see:
(1) For John Taylor's comments about federal archivists as "Hardy Boys," his criticism of Stanley Kutler and Dan Rather, etc. see John Taylor, “Cutting the Nixon Tapes,” The American Spectator, March 1998, available on December 10, 2003 on the website of the Nixon Library and Birthplace at http://www.nixonlibrary.org/newsContent.cfm?doc=TheNixons/archive/AmSpect.html
(2) For accounts of Dr. Kutler's litigation over public access to the Nixon tapes, see his article, "Liberation of the Nixon Tapes," Legal Times, Stanley I. Kutler, May 6, 1996. See also Seymour Hersh, "Nixon's Last Coverup," The New Yorker, December 14, 1992; Jack Hitt, “Nixon’s Last Trump,” Harper’s, August 1994.
(3) For historian Joan Hoff's article reflecting an historical researcher's perspective on the Nixon records, see Presidential Studies Quarterly, Winter 1996. See also her article, "The Endless Saga of the Nixon Tapes," in A Culture of Secrecy, ed. Athan Theoharis. The Theoharis book also is the source of the quotation from Scott Armstrong cited in the article above.
(4) For my article on the Nixon historical materials and Presidential records in general, see "Watergate's Last Victim," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Winter 1996. For an update, see my article on the History News Service, "Will There Be a Last Nixon Coverup," February 2004,cached version at http://snipurl.com/8bg7 . The actual link is
but the server seems to be done at the moment, this probably will be back up shortly.
(5) For an account of U.S. Archivist Don Wilson's departure from the Archives to take a job with the Bush Foundation amidst controversy over an the handling of Bush's e-mail records, see Time, "Doing Bush a Favor," March 1, 1993. This includes a comment from a critic, "'Poor Don Wilson. They held a pen to his head.'" See also The Washington Post, August 21, 1993, "History and the 'Save' Button."
(6) For Nixon Foundation director John Taylor's comments about me and the Archives, see his letter published in the June 21, 1996 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. He implied that I am not among the "Nixon Republicans" and, as such, by inference may even be a liberal. I actually was a Nixon Republican, having worked on Nixon's 1968 campaign and having voted for him in 1972. I am pictured in The Inaugural Story, 1969. For more on disputes over public access to Nixon's records, see also Taylor's letter to the editor of the Chronicle, March 8, 1996.
(7) For accounts of the disputes between Dr. Peterson and Mr. Fawcett over Presidential records policy, the Presidential Library foundations' reported support of Mr. Fawcett, etc., see articles in The Washington Times, February through May 1994.