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Nixon Library opens amid controversy

By
ANNETTE HADDAD

YORBA LINDA, Calif. -- Nearly 16 years after leaving the White House as the only president to resign from office, Richard M. Nixon is poised to preside over the opening of his presidential library.

The event won't be without some of the controversy that marked Nixon's five decades in politics.

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On July 19, Nixon, 77, flanked by President Bush and former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, will dedicate the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace -- the only privately funded, privately run athenaeum bearing a U.S. President's name.

The dedication may emerge as more of an inauguration than a mere ribbon-cutting. In addition to President Bush and the former presidents, four former Secretaries of State and other prominent Cabinet members, a handful of celebrities and a couple of former world leaders are set to attend.

While library officials have refused to make public the list of the 3,000 invited guests, some of those attending include former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Alexander Haig and William Rogers; former Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman, the Rev. Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale and Bob Hope.

Not on the guest list are some others that were once household names: John Dean, Jeb Magruder, Donald Segretti and G. Gordon Liddy. The foursome were among Nixon's closest White House confidants and advisers, and all but Liddy served prison terms for their participation in the Watergate scandal.

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'Those invited are past administration people, donors to the library foundation and friends and supporters of the president,' said library spokesman Kevin Cartwright.

Former President Jimmy Carter declined an invitation but promised to visit the library at a later date.

The $21 million Nixon complex, 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is built next to the 300-square-foot woodframe house where Nixon was born in 1913. It will include in the museum a 60-foot-long exhibit of the debacle that forced Nixon to resign in 1974. The section will also include a niche for visitors to listen to copies of the controversial tapes that would have been used as evidence against Nixon had impeachment proceedings begun.

But while Watergate is included in the pantheon to Nixon's political career, the centerpiece of the museum exhibits is the Foreign Affairs Room, dedicated to Nixon's international diplomacy efforts which are considered by some as milestones in post-war history.

The exhibit will feature presentations from 10 world leaders commentating on Nixon's presidency, and a small corridor display on the Vietnam War.

'It's very difficult to take the career of the most controversial politician in the post-war era ... and attempt to collapse that career into 14,000-square feet of exhibit hall,' said Hugh Hewitt, the library's executive director.

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'It won't be a museum on Watergate, but we're not going to shy away from it either,' Hewitt said. 'It's part of what interests people about Nixon.'

Nixon's birthplace, with its original furniture -- including the bed on which he was born -- and the museum chronicling his career, will be open to the public Friday. But the library, which will occupy a subterranean level under the museum, is not scheduled to be completed until 1991.

Nixon's will be the second presidential library in Southern California. Next year, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library will open in Simi Valley, 75 miles northwest of Yorba Linda.

But unlike Reagan's and every other library dedicated to 20th-century presidents, Nixon's is unofficial since some of its contents -- Nixon's presidential and vice presidential papers -- will be reproductions of the originals, which are property of the U.S. government.

'President Nixon wanted no taxpayer money funding the library,' Hewitt said.

Because the facility is private and will not be operated by the National Archives -- as the other presidential libraries are -- the government will not release his papers.

However, the library will contain, in addition to reproductions of many of the officials papers, more than 10 million pages of personal documents and diaries that will be available for research purposes.

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The issue of who could conduct research at the library erupted into a small firestorm earlier this month when it was disclosed that researchers would be screened before they could enter. The initial policy was to exclude scholars who were perceived as critics of the Nixon administrations. Bob Woodward -- the Washington Post reporter who helped unearth the Watergate imbroglio -- was at the top of the list, according to Hewitt.

But, in the face of mounting criticism over the apparent restriction of access, the policy was reversed, and now users of the library need only be 'qualified and responsible,' said John Taylor, Nixon's personal assistant.

The opening of the library marks another Nixon triumph of sorts.

Yorba Linda, although his hometown, was not the originally intended site for Nixon's presidential library. In 1970, the Nixon Library Foundation chose San Clemente, home of the western White House during his presidential years, as the library's location. The plan was scuttled, however, when three of the foundation trustees -- John Mitchell, John Erlichman and Haldeman -- pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Watergate scandal in 1975.

Nearly 10 years later, San Clemente was chosen as the site again after Nixon's law school alma mater, Duke University, dropped plans for a library there in the face of financial problems and student opposition. Nixon then personally selected Yorba Linda after San Clemente city officials delayed construction for more than three years.NEWLN: (

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