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Profile: Charles Alan Wright
Charles Alan Wright was a participant or observer in the following events:
Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the Senate Watergate Committee demand that President Nixon hand over a selection of presidential documents and the secret White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon refuses to hand over any of the requested material. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] He invokes “executive privilege,” which Nixon says is essential to maintaining the constitutional mandate of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Cox immediately subpoenas the documents and tapes, as does the Senate committee. Commitee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) says: “I deeply regret that this situation has arisen, because I think that the Watergate tragedy is the greatest tragedy this country has ever suffered. I used to think that the Civil War was our country’s greatest tragedy, but I do remember that there were some redeeming features in the Civil War in that there was some spirit of sacrifice and heroism displayed on both sides. I see no redeeming features in Watergate.” Vice chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) is a bit more equivocal, saying he is disappointed in being “on the brink of a constitutional confrontation between the Congress and the White House.” The documents, Baker says, are “essential, if not vital, to the full, thorough inquiry mandated and required of this committee.” In a letter to Ervin, Nixon says the tapes are not essential to the investigation; he has personally gone through them and they “are entirely consistent with what I know to be the truth and what I have stated to be the truth.” However, some of the comments on the tapes could be misconstrued, he says, and much of the conversations on the tapes are of a “frank and very private” nature. The tapes will remain “under my sole personal control,” Nixon writes. “None has been transcribed or made public and none will be.” Cox argues that, as a member of the executive branch himself, there is no issue over separation of powers; White House consultant Charles Alan Wright retorts in a letter to Cox that since he does not report either to the attorney general or the president, his role is hard to define. But if Cox is indeed a member of the executive branch, “you are subject to the instructions of your superiors, up to and including the president, and can have access to presidential papers only as and if the president sees fit to make them available to you.” Even more importantly, Wright notes, if the tapes become available to the judiciary, then the argument of separation of powers involving the executive and judicial branches is an issue. Cox rejects Wright’s argument. The ultimate arbiter of this dispute may not even be the Supreme Court, as it has no power to compel Nixon to turn over the tapes even if it rules against him. Impeachment and conviction seems the only legal method to ultimately force Nixon’s hand if he continues to be recalcitrant. [Washington Post, 7/24/1973]
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