The procedures and regular deadlines were all under court supervision. In the summer of 2000, in the middle of the Presidential race between Governor George W. Bush of Texas and Vice President Al Gore, we were scheduled for an August public release of the next set of Watergate Tapes. Given the complexity of the task at hand, as August approached, it was clear that we were not going to meet the schedule, and after re-negotiation with the court, the scheduled release was pushed back to early October.
That’s when I got notice that the Bush campaign was not very happy with the schedule. The message was carried by Jim Cicconi who was a top executive with AT&T as well as a member of my Archives Foundation Board and a friend. From a political perspective, it was a logical request, knowing that some of the tapes would include White House visits by George Herbert Walker Bush, who was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee at that time. Not knowing for sure what had been said and not wanting to hand Gore ammunition at the end of the campaign, they pressured me to delay the release.
My refusal to give in and delay the opening was based on two points. First, the Archives was under court order to release the tapes as soon as realistically possible, and that was not a secret from the press or the interested public. Secondly, I argued that regardless of what was on the tapes, delaying would create an even larger problem for them with the press and allow the Gore campaign to speculate on what was being obviously covered up to avoid hurting the Bush effort.
I stayed with my position, and the set of Nixon tapes came out on time in early October with no fuss. Aside from the usual foul language, there was nothing on the tapes that would impact the campaign. Although, as close as the race was, it’s hard to know exactly what would have happened if I had caved and delayed the opening.