The National Archives runs 13 presidential libraries, containing the records of presidents from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush. (The Barack Obama Presidential Library is under construction. The Donald J. Trump Presidential Library is currently a website; no physical location has been announced.) They even offer a nifty passport book; you collect stamps each time you visit another presidential library; once the passport is full, you can show it any library and receive a “special gift.”
For my book on the Watergate, I found material in each of these libraries. (Most of that was done via email, so I’m not eligible for my “special gift,” sadly.) Some of the best stuff came from the Kennedy library, including the hate mail the first Catholic president received after the Washington Post reported that the company behind the Watergate, an Italian real estate conglomerate, had “Vatican financial ties.”
All types of people visit presidential libraries and museums, including history buffs, school kids — and opposition researchers..
That’s because presidential libraries contain more than 600 million pages of text, nearly 20 million photographs, over 20 million feet of motion picture footage, and nearly 100,000 hours of audio and video.
As Willie Sutton famously said when asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”
Another reason: The day-to-day conversation within a White House, via memo or e-mail, can be very frank. For example, one aide might complain to another that a certain politician is becoming a pest. A politician may reach out to a White House pal and share dirt on a rival. You get the picture.
From an oppo researcher’s perspective, a presidential library is a river filled with golden nuggets. You just need to know where to dip your pan.