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Judge orders the release of Nixon's Watergate grand jury testimony

By Bill Mears, CNN
  • NEW: The government can appeal the ruling
  • The release "would likely enhance the existing historical record," the judge says
  • The Justice Department wants to protect the privacy interests of witnesses

(CNN) -- A federal judge has ordered the release of decades-old secret grand jury testimony from former President Richard Nixon, related to the Watergate scandal.

It is unclear when the material might be available to the public, since the Justice Department, which believes the transcript should be kept secret, now has the option of asking a federal appeals court in Washington to intervene.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth on Friday rejected the department's argument that the privacy interests of witnesses would be compromised by the release.

"Nearly forty years later, Watergate continues to capture both scholarly and public interest," Lamberth said. "The disclosure of President Nixon's grand jury testimony would likely enhance the existing historical record, foster further scholarly discussion, and improve the public's understanding of a significant historical event."

A group of historians and legal scholars had sued the government, seeking release of the testimony Nixon gave in June 1975, 10 months after he resigned from office over the Watergate investigation. He was later pardoned by President Gerald Ford.

The Public Citizen Litigation Group represented the plaintiffs, who argued the historic importance of the case deserved public release.

Lamberth agreed, saying he is "confident that disclosure will greatly benefit the public and its understanding of Watergate without compromising the tradition and objectives of grand jury secrecy."