U.S. v. Nixon: 1974 - Nixon Fights Subpoena, Nixon Ordered To Release Tapes, Suggestions For Further Reading
Plaintiff: United States
Defendant: President Richard M. Nixon
Plaintiff Claims: That the president had to obey a subpoena ordering him to turn over tape recordings and documents relating to his conversations with aides and advisers concerning the Watergate break-in
Chief Defense Lawyer: James D. St. Clair
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Leon Jaworski and Philip A. Lacovara
Justices: Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Warren E. Burger, William 0. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Potter Stewart, and Byron R. White. William A. Rehnquist recused himself from the case.
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: July 24, 1974
Decision: President Nixon was ordered to turn over the tapes and other documents to the prosecutors
SIGNIFICANCE: The President is not immune from judicial process, and must turn over evidence subpoenaed by the courts. The doctrine of executive privilege entitles the president to a high degree of confidentiality if the evidence involves matters of national security or other sensitive information, but the President cannot withhold evidence.
By the Spring of 1974, the government investigation into the Watergate break-in and the subsequent coverup was moving fullsteam ahead. Despite President Richard M. Nixon's repeated denials, it was becoming increasingly clear to Congress and the public that senior Nixon administration officials, and probably Nixon himself, had been actively involved in the coverup. On March 1, 1974, a 19-person federal grand jury indicted Attorney General John N. Mitchell for conspiracy to obstruct justice, and the proceeding was entitled U.S. v. Mitchell. Six other persons, all senior Nixon administration officials employed in the White House or the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), were indicted as co-conspirators: Charles W. Colson, John D. Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, Robert C. Mardian, Kenneth W. Parkinson, and Gordon Strachan. Nixon also was included but as an unindicted co-conspirator.
On April 18, 1974, Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, charged with the responsibility of conducting the Watergate investigation for the government, went to Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In response to Jaworski's request, Sirica issued a subpoena ordering Nixon to produce "certain tapes, memoranda, papers, transcripts, or other writings" related to the specific meetings and conversations detailed in the subpoena. The material was to be turned over by May 2, 1974, for use in the trial, scheduled for September 9, 1974. Jaworski was able to identify the time, place, and persons present at these discussions because he already possessed the White House daily logs and appointment records.
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