Nixon Library Opens a Door Some Would Prefer Left Closed

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YORBA LINDA, Calif. — Most presidential libraries are as much celebrations of a president as historical repositories. They are packed with official papers, photographs, limousines, proclamations and baby shoes representing the president’s life and times; dark chapters are traditionally ignored or at least understated.

That tradition was exploded Thursday as the Watergate Gallery opened here at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. The unveiling ended a nearly yearlong struggle between national archivists and the Richard Nixon Foundation, a group of Nixon loyalists who controlled the former president’s papers until ceding them to the National Archives four years ago. The fight was over how to portray the scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation.

From the first words a visitor sees entering the gallery — a quotation from Nixon, “This is a conspiracy” — the exhibit offers a searing and often unforgiving account of one of the most painful chapters of the nation’s history. The timeline methodically chronicles the stream of misdeeds leading up to the Watergate break-in, followed by the attempts to cover it up, which led to Nixon’s resignation.

It is a far cry from the library’s original Watergate exhibition, “The Last Campaign,” created by the Nixon Foundation with the former president’s direct involvement. That installment portrayed Watergate as an orchestrated effort by Democrats to overturn the 1972 election....

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