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

Russell Riley, a historian at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said that since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and ’70s, Americans have come to expect something different from what Trump has offered so far — at the very least, a show of common cause with those demonstrating for racial progress. “When Lyndon Johnson — a Texan — went before Congress and said, ‘We shall overcome,’ that changed the job description of every president since,” said Riley, who co-chairs the Miller Center Presidential Oral History Program at UVA. “Even with Nixon and Reagan, who trafficked in the seamier side of politics, there was some acknowledgement of the need for racial equality.”
Russell Riley Los Angeles Times
The decision will give Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, more ammunition in their attempts to raise ethical questions about a president who has fought relentlessly to keep his financial records out of the public eye, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “In the short term, this sets aside the immediate problem of having to confront whatever it is in those records that Trump doesn’t want people to see,” he said. “But it also generates an additional vulnerability for Biden to exploit among that small group of people who may still be undecided.”
Russell Riley The Washington Post
Russell Riley USA Today
Russell Riley is interviewed in El Pais
Russell Riley El Pais
What you have seen since Donald Trump has become president is a complete rejection of that norm and that remains true up until today,” said Russell Riley, professor and co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Russell Riley Associated Press
Over the course of his presidency, Trump has responded to criticism of his performance or comments by suggesting or outright asserting that his critics are criminals. Trump, who campaigned for the White House by leading “Lock her up!” chants against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, is now reverting to a familiar political tactic as he faces the most significant challenge of his presidency, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “He’s using this as a means of distraction,” he said. “As we’ve seen over the years, when the pressure on him gets turned up, there’s an attempt to deflect attention onto his political opponents.”
Russell Riley The Washington Post