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

Leading up to the Miller Center’s 50th anniversary in 2025, this conference shares new ideas and best practices to support a more responsible and effective presidency.
Miller Center Presents
Historically, many incumbent presidents have campaigned against an oppositional Congress and relied on a “Rose Garden strategy” for reelection, but that approach could have its limits in the current moment, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Russell Riley Washington Post
Other experts cautioned that Biden could actually see a positive consequence from the inquiry similar to former President Bill Clinton's impeachment over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, which led to Democrats gaining five House seats, one of only two times since 1934 that the president's party gained House seats during the midterm elections while blocking Republicans from gaining any more seats in the Senate. "The 1998 midterm election, it's not completely unprecedented, but it was almost unprecedented in terms of the support that Clinton was able to generate in November of 1998 when all the impeachment furor was reaching its peak," said Russell Riley, co-chair of the University of Virginia's Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program.
Russell Riley Washington Examiner
Russell L. Riley, co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, believes there are “sound reasons to believe that it [the disqualification clause] would be applicable to Trump and thus render him ineligible for office. Especially given the sentences issued to the January 6 protesters, including the Proud Boys, it is hard not to find that the president was to blame for a real insurrection, consistent with the terms of the 14th amendment.”
Russell Riley El Pais
While history is full of examples of deep ideological divisions, today’s battles lack a sense of “loser’s grace” in which both sides agree to accept the outcome and move on, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Russell Riley The Washington Post
Historian Russell L. Riley, co-director of the Miller Center for Presidential Oral Histories at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, agrees that the law does not preclude Trump from running in a campaign where he is currently the favorite to win the Republican nomination and will likely face off with Joe Biden again.
Russell Riley El Pais