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 the White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions. He 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 PhD 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

“Is Trump really losing it, or is this just more of the same, but more?” asked Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “Democracies don’t get into serious trade disputes with authoritarian regimes because, presumably, democrats know out of the box that when things get tough, they don’t have at their disposal the tool of last resort for the autocrat: a command economy.”
Russell Riley The New York Times
“Legacies are protean things,” said Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, “and the prism through which we view these presidencies changes depending on the circumstances.” As “political conditions of the time” change, Riley said, Clinton, Obama, and even Reagan will see their standing rise and fall.
Russell Riley POLITICO
Trump has long rejected the traditional presidential role of a unifying figure for America’s broad and diverse population, and his decision to spread such inflammatory rhetoric was bound to escalate beyond his control, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Russell Riley The Washington Post
Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said the president’s fascination with the show is reflective of a presidency more concerned with style than substance. “This is a president who came to the office primarily because he’s a showman, and he loves this stuff,” he said. “There’s almost a childlike joy at being able to move the tanks and the airplanes around on the board.”
Russell Riley The Washington Post
“This is another case where President Trump’s behavior is norm-busting,” added Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
Russell Riley POLITICO Magazine
Traditionally, top White House and congressional officials were reluctant to engage in tactics that could fundamentally change the separation-of-powers playing field. Knowing that majorities in Congress shift and control of the White House changes hands, there was a clear incentive to maintain balance. “That certainly does not seem to be [Sen.] Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s way of governing,” Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia’s nonpartisan Miller Center, told TPM. “That’s, ‘I will do whatever I can do right now and the future be damned.'”
Russell Riley Talking Points Memo