Saturday, December 1, 2012

US government releases once-secret Watergate files

WASHINGTON (AP) — Watergate Judge John J. Sirica aided the prosecution in pursuing the White House connection to the Democratic headquarters break-in by providing the special prosecutor information from a probation report in which one of the burglars said he was acting under orders from top Nixon administration officials, according to once-secret documents released Friday by the National Archives.

One newly public transcript of an in-chambers meeting between Sirica, the U.S. District Court judge in charge of the case, and then-Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in July 1973 shows the judge revealed secret probation reports indicating that E. Howard Hunt had cited orders from officials high up in the Nixon administration. Several of Hunt's co-defendants had previously denied any White House involvement in court testimony, and Sirica told Cox and other prosecutors that he felt the new information "seemed to me significant."

The government released more than 850 pages from the Watergate political scandal, providing new insights on privileged legal conversations and prison evaluations of several of the burglars in the case. A federal judge had decided earlier this month to unseal some material, but other records still remain off limits.

The files do not appear to provide any significant new revelations in the 40-year-old case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and criminal prosecutions of many of his top White House and political aides. But the files provide useful context for historians, revealing behind-the-scenes deliberations by Sirica, the U.S. District Court judge in charge of the case, along with prosecutors and defense lawyers.