Experts

Russell Riley

Professor and Co-Chair of the Presidential Oral History Program

Fast Facts

Areas Of Expertise

  • Leadership
  • Political Parties and Movements
  • Politics
  • The Presidency

Professor Russell Riley, co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on elite oral history interviewing and the contemporary presidency. He has logged more than 1,500 hours of confidential interviews with senior members of the White House staff, cabinet officers, and foreign leaders back to the days of the Carter and Reagan Administrations. Since 2003, he has led both the William J. Clinton Presidential History Project and the George W. Bush Oral History Project. He has lectured extensively on American politics and oral history methods across the United States, as well as in China, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, Ireland, and the Netherlands, and by videoconference (for the US Department of State) at Al Quds and Najah Universities in the West Bank.

In 2003, Riley led the Center’s biographical oral history of Washington lawyer Lloyd N. Cutler. He organized and directed, also in 2003, a symposium of former leaders of the White House Congressional Affairs operation, and he helped to organize and carry out, in 2008, a symposium of former White House speechwriters, which was nationally televised on C-SPAN.

Riley graduated from Auburn University in 1983, where he received the Charles P. Anson Award as outstanding student of economics. He subsequently studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and then received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, where he was a research assistant to James Sterling Young at the Miller Center. He subsequently taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown. He helped found Penn’s Washington Semester Program and from 1994 to 1998 was its resident director and a lecturer in American politics. From 1998 to 2000, he was a program director with the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies in Austria, where he organized week-long sessions on topics ranging from racial politics to the evolution of transatlantic relations in the post-Cold War world. He returned to the Miller Center in January 2001.

He has authored or edited six books, including Inside the Clinton White House: An Oral History (Oxford, 2016); Bridging the Constitutional Divide: Inside the White House Office of Legislative Affairs (Texas A&M, 2010); and The Presidency and the Politics of Racial Inequality: Nation-keeping from 1861 to 1965 (Columbia, 1999). The last of those was a finalist for that year’s Neustadt Award as the best book on the presidency. His commentary on American politics has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and TIME.   
  

 

Russell Riley News Feed

Russell Riley, the head of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, says Clinton’s aides were so determined to avoid scandal that they had protocols in place to prevent the president from being alone with women. (Maybe that’s where Mike Pence got the idea for his never-alone-with-a-lady-besides-my-wife rule.) How did the system fall apart with Lewinsky? The government shutdown in November 1995 cleared the White House of everyone except senior leaders and lowly interns, and that left Clinton unchaperoned.
Russell Riley Boston Globe Magazine
"I can’t say that this has never happened before; behind closed doors we don’t know what's going on. But I can just say that based on interviews with hundreds of people who worked very closely with [past] presidents, I think they take the Presidential Records Act very seriously,” Miller Center scholar Russell Riley told TIME. “In my 20-plus years of interviewing White House officials, there has been a respect for the necessity of doing this even when it hurt them in their operational activities.”
Russell Riley TIME
Though he ended up seeking congressional approval for the Gulf War, Bush was unconvinced he needed it—saying he would have gone regardless of the vote. Miller Center scholar Russell Riley, head of the Presidential Oral History Program, agrees that “there is a very long history of military interventions abroad—everything from Barbary pirates to the desert helicopter mission to get hostages out of Iran—in which presidents have freely exercised their powers without any sort of authorization from Congress.”
Russell Riley Smithsonian.com
Such attacks by a party’s main political arm are nothing new. But from a sitting president? “The closest I can come is FDR and the ‘Southern purge’ in 1938,” said Riley Russell, also of UVA. “I don’t recall anything similar … on presidents since Jimmy Carter.”
Russell Riley Roll Call
Russell Riley, co-chairman of the Miller Center's Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia, said that passing legislation to protect special counsels would be a "sharp stick in the eye of the president" and that he's not surprised Republicans aren't taking that step against Trump. "What they're trying to do is erect, by their language, some guardrails against the president taking this step," Riley said.
Russell Riley Los Angeles Times
Russell Riley, a professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, described Wood as a victim of a highly charged political era, somewhat like our current climate. “The Republicans were eager to find any vulnerabilities in Clinton nominees in 1993,” said Riley. “Sensitivities were heightened because Clinton was billing himself as a new kind of Democrat with a new way of doing business, running against twelve years of Republican rule.” Riled added: “When there were any foibles found in a nominee, they were a very rich target.”
Russell Riley ABC News