U.S. archive official denies settlement on Nixon papers
April 5, 1997
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The head of the National Archives on Saturday denied reports that the U.S. government and the estate of former President Richard Nixon had reached a multimillion-dollar settlement for his White House papers and papers.
"There's no done deal," archivist John Carlin told CNN.
Carlin made his comments after the Washington Post reported that the U.S. government tentatively has agreed to pay the estate $26 million for the late Nixon's White House papers and records.
All the materials seized by the government in 1974 following the former president's resignation would be shipped to California under the agreement. The documents and tapes are now held at a National Archives annex in College Park, Maryland.
It is not immediately clear when the settlement would be finalized. The Post said one of the major sticking points has been the Nixon family's fear that the former president's estate -- currently valued around $2 million -- might be liable for inheritance taxes on the entire $26 million received in the settlement.
Fact vs. historical makeover
According to the Post, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace would use about $8 million of the settlement to build a facility to house the collection of more than 44 million items. The structure would be built to the Archives' specifications on the 9-acre Yorba Linda property, the Post reported.
The proposed settlement also would bring the Nixon library, which opened in 1990 without any original presidential documents, in line with other presidential libraries around the country. Although the National Archives runs most of them, the libraries typically serve as image-polishing institutions for their presidents, without providing a much-needed historical perspective.
And that is what critics of the plan object to -- that public access to Nixon materials would be diminished even as public funds are being spent to pay for them.
"This is unconscionable," University of Indiana historian Joan Hoff told the Post. "If this goes through, I think you'll see a firestorm from the academic community."
News of the proposed agreement follows a ruling earlier this week by U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ordering the Archives to return "all personal and private conversations" on Nixon's tapes "and any copies thereof" to the estate, along with a 27,000-page log summarizing the tapes.
1992 ruling cleared way
Nixon's will specifies that most of the compensation is to be passed directly from his estate to the library after his family is reimbursed for millions of dollars in legal fees incurred in 23 years of litigation over the ownership and public disclosure of the papers and tapes.
The proposal to pay for Nixon's records, the Post said, stems from a 1992 federal appeals court ruling that Nixon "like every other president before him, had a compensable property interest in his presidential papers."
Previous presidents and their estates have placed extensive restrictions on collections. But no modern-day president has been directly paid for his papers, although some have taken sizable tax deductions for their donations, the Post said.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 made the records of present and future presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan, public property. But it also allowed former presidents to restrict what can be made public, especially while they are still alive.
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