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Watergate Revelations: The Coup Against Nixon, Part 3 of 3

This is the third installment of a three-part series, featuring chapters related to Nixon and Watergate from WhoWhatWhy editor Russ Baker’s book, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years.

Notes: (1) Although these excerpts do not contain footnotes, the book itself is heavily footnoted and exhaustively sourced. (2) To distinguish between George Bush, father and son, George H.W. Bush is sometimes referred to by his nickname Poppy, and George W. Bush by his, W. (3) Additional context can be found in the preceding chapters.

Before you read this third and final installment, please read the first and second installment.

 

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CHAPTER 11

Downing Nixon, Part II: The Execution

If, as it appears, Watergate was indeed a setup, it was a fairly elaborate covert operation, with three parts: 1) creating the crime, 2) implicating Nixon by making him appear to be knowledgeable and complicit in a cover-up, and 3) ensuring that an aggressive effort would be mounted to use the “facts” of the case to prosecute Nixon and force him from office. The third area is where Lowell Weicker was absolutely indispensable.

The very day after Dean went to see Nixon to deliver his “cancer on the presidency” speech, Weicker, preparing for the hearings, received a visitor.

According to Weicker’s memoir, the visitor was Ed DeBolt, a Republican national committeeman from California. “DeBolt opened my eyes wide,” Weicker writes, “In sum, what he said was that many people in California politics considered Nixon to be a ‘chronic gutter fighter.’ If that had reached the East, I didn’t know about it.”

As presented in the memoir, this visit played a major role in convincing Weicker that Watergate might be more serious than he had understood— and that it would have been in character for Nixon himself to have sanctioned the break-ins.

At a minimum, Weicker comes across as oddly sheltered, having missed a good two decades of acclaimed Herblock cartoons characterizing Nixon as a gutter fighter, beginning with a 1954 comic showing him crawling out of a sewer. Indeed, by 1973 Nixon had been widely represented as a political smear artist.

In fact, the DeBolt-Weicker story turns out to be more complicated than the senator indicates in his memoir. In a 2008 interview, DeBolt told me that it was actually Weicker who called and summoned him, and that Weicker knew DeBolt was not merely a party activist from California, but a Washington insider. During the 1972 campaign, DeBolt had been one of the Nixon campaign’s key operatives. By the time Weicker called him, in March 1973, DeBolt was a high-ranking staffer for the party—on the payroll at Poppy Bush’s RNC.

“He called me up one day—he knew where I was because he had my phone number at the RNC—and he asked if I would come see him for a few minutes,” recalled DeBolt, who served as the RNC’s deputy chairman for research and campaigns. They met in the Senate cafeteria.

DeBolt said that he characterized Nixon to Weicker as a complicated individual, a mix of good and bad: “I liked [Nixon] . . . He was very, very smart, and he really cared about me and the staff; he just didn’t show it . . . I would see this man who knew so much but he was more insecure than my puppy. So, I always felt sorry for him. I just think he got in over his head.”

The most curious aspect of DeBolt’s interaction with Weicker was that when he responded to the senator’s summons, he found him sitting with a prepared list of detailed questions, based on information that only someone high up in the White House or RNC could have known about DeBolt. “I don’t remember volunteering a whole lot of stuff. He had a list in front of him, of questions, and he was going down the list and checking them off. He was clearly asking questions that his staff had put together . . .”

In Weicker’s memoir, he suggests that DeBolt’s purported revelation about Nixon’s “gutter fighter” reputation caused him to spring into action. One thing he did, according to DeBolt, was to enter a part of DeBolt’s comments into the committee records.

After DeBolt’s visit, the senator excitedly called his staff and met with them over the weekend. His press secretary, Dick McGowan, started to devote “enormous amounts of time” to the scandal. McGowan, who, intriguingly, would himself later go to work for Poppy Bush, would turn Weicker’s office into what he called “a gold mine” of information. At times, reporters were stumbling over each other as they waited for their daily handout. Many of the “exclusives” that appeared in the media were from the Weicker team’s own investigation.

 

On March 29, barely nine days after he had met with Nixon and recommended having Dean testify, Poppy called the White House with an even more urgent request. As recounted in Haldeman’s diaries, the purpose of Bush’s call was to get the president to start talking about Watergate publicly:

George Bush just called. It [i.e., disclosure] must be from the President at the President’s earliest possible convenience. This is the most urgent request he has ever made of the President . . . This is an outgrowth of conversations he’s had with Gerry Ford and Bryce Harlow . . . He doesn’t necessarily have solutions but feels that this political advice . . . is of the utmost urgency. [emphasis added]

Poppy Bush was almost frantic to get Nixon’s ear—again claiming to be carrying input from influential Republicans. And his message was always the same: it’s urgent that you confess White House misdeeds.

DeBolt, who worked at the RNC from 1971 to 1973, said he found Bush’s presence at the party’s helm bizarre. “I wondered how in the heck Bush got to be RNC chairman,” he said. “He had been a flop in everything he had done, and he had nobody at the RNC who was rooting for him—nobody. [The order to install Bush] came directly from Nixon, and we always wondered about that.”

And who had the best access to intelligence overall in and between the FBI, the White House, the RNC, and the reelection campaign? One guess. “Dean got copies of every single report,” DeBolt recalled. “We were led to believe that Dean was keeping us out of trouble; he was checking on stuff, for Nixon.”

 

Over at the Capitol, on April 10, 1973, Weicker received another visitor. It was Jack Gleason, previously of the Townhouse Operation, who was no longer associated with the White House. He came now with words of caution. Someone—Gleason cannot recall who—on the White House staff, figuring he would pass along the information to Weicker, had told Gleason that the senator was going to be implicated for allegedly accepting a Townhouse transferred campaign donation and not reporting it.

Based on the tip from Gleason, who himself still assumed that Townhouse had been authorized from the very top, Weicker said that he concluded Nixon was trying to set him up. Sometime later, he contacted the special prosecutor’s office and urged that it investigate Townhouse.

Even if Gleason was, as he asserts, trying to do the right thing, someone inside the White House was using essentially the same information for a different purpose: seemingly not to frame Weicker but rather to anger him. Or to give Weicker the impetus to set that moldy would-be scandal, Townhouse, back in play.

Cranking up the volume further, a few days after Gleason’s visit, an anonymous source inside the White House tipped off reporters about illegalities in the 1970 Weicker campaign and suggested that the reporters talk to Gleason. The goal seems to have been to make Gleason the fall guy, but more important, to further prime the pumps for the revival of Townhouse in the news.

 

Meanwhile, John Dean took the step that would land him in the history books: he publicly switched sides.

Ostensibly operating solely in his own interests, Dean broke with Nixon, purportedly because he worried about facing possible prosecution and hoped to secure a deal for himself. This defection enabled Dean to become the virtual guide for both prosecutors and senatorial committee members. When he became the witness for the prosecution, Dean brought with him the noose with which to hang Nixon. Now he would “tell all” about the things Nixon “had done”—creating the charge that would ultimately drive the president from office. Dean informed the special prosecutors that Nixon was involved in a cover-up. He also told them about the break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. And he kept on talking.

 

Will the Real John Dean Please Stand Up?

To this day, thanks in part to his bestselling book, Blind Ambition, John Dean lives in memory as an ambitious and self-absorbed young lawyer who got caught up in Nixon’s scheming and then, from some combination of self preservation and guilt, blew the whistle. As a result, Dean became something of a hero on the left—and years later an MSNBC pundit and outspoken critic of the George W. Bush administration. He even wrote a bestselling critique of W. called Worse Than Watergate.

But the widely accepted characterization of Dean as a misguided underling whose ambitions led him to participate for a period in Nixon’s depraved schemes does not comport well with the actual facts of his life. John Wesley Dean III was wired—and sponsored—from the get-go.

Dean was the son of an affluent Ohio family, and his early years were shaped by military values—including following orders—not doing one’s own thing. He graduated from Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, where he roomed with Barry Goldwater Jr., and became lifelong friends with the Goldwater family, which had close ties to the Bushes. (Barry Goldwater Jr. was in the wedding party in 1972 when Dean married his second wife, Maureen. And Barry Goldwater Sr. would play a crucial role in pushing Nixon out by publicly calling for him to go—an important signal from a party elder.)

Dean attended two colleges in the Midwest before coming to Washington. There he married Karla Hennings, the daughter of a recently deceased Democratic senator from Missouri, and met Robert McCandless, who was married to Karla’s sister. McCandless was from the oil-rich state of Oklahoma and had learned the ways of the Capitol on the staff of Senator Robert Kerr, the Oklahoma oilman and friend of the Bushes who was long regarded—after Texas’s Speaker, Sam Rayburn—as the power behind Lyndon Johnson’s rise.

After graduating from Georgetown Law School, Dean took a job with a Washington law firm. He was soon accused of conflict of interest violations because he had allegedly been negotiating his own private deal relating to a broadcast license for a new television station after being assigned to prepare an identical application for a client. The firm fired him for this transgression, and despairing of being hired by another law office, he turned to his brother-in-law for advice. McCandless suggested that he find another job fast, before his status as unemployed became too apparent, and preferably a job where his firing might not come up.

Dean used his connections to a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee to get a job as the committee’s chief minority counsel. William McCulloch, a representative from Ohio who was Dean’s boss on the Judiciary Committee, said of him: “He was an able young man, but he was in a hell of a hurry.” When a National Commission on the Reform of Federal Criminal Law was created in 1967, Dean was appointed associate director. In 1968, Dean volunteered to write position papers on crime for the Nixon campaign. After the inauguration, he got a job with Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, an Arizonan and protégé of Barry Goldwater; presumably Dean’s longtime friendship with Barry Jr. did not hurt. Among other things, his government work dealt with antiwar demonstrations and wiretapping laws.

In little over a year, in July 1970, when John Ehrlichman became the president’s chief domestic adviser, and his job as the president’s lawyer opened up, Dean moved in. It had been a dizzyingly steep climb, from ousted law firm associate to counsel to the president of the United States in four short years.

 

Egil, or “Evil,” Krogh?

How exactly did John Dean get onto the White House staff ? He was brought on by Egil “Bud” Krogh Jr. Friends of Krogh dubbed him “Evil Krogh,” as a joke, insisting that it was the exact opposite of a man of formidable rectitude. In fact, Krogh was a complex figure.

A longtime friend of John Ehrlichman’s and a former member of his Seattle law firm, Krogh brought into the White House not just Dean but also Gordon Liddy. And he approved the break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office—an act whose exposure would seriously damage Nixon.

Although Dean joined the president’s staff in July 1970, records show Krogh trying to get him into the White House, even on a piecemeal basis, months earlier. As early as March 2, Krogh arranged daily White House access for the outsider. A memo dated March 2 says: “John Dean . . . will be coming to the White House every day until approximately November 1970. I would appreciate your issuing him a White House pass for that reason . . . Bud Krogh.” On March 24, Krogh shifted gears, including Dean on a list of four people he was recommending for “personnel recruitment.” It is not clear how Krogh knew Dean or why he became so determined to bring Dean into the White House—or whether he was told to do so. “He has been one of my closest confidants in developing Congressional strategy,” Krogh wrote to Haldeman. Krogh ultimately got Dean hired without a background check.

Krogh had begun his work for Nixon by helping with the inauguration, then was made an adviser on the District of Columbia. Quickly, though, he maneuvered himself into far heavier fare. He became liaison to the FBI and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), a precursor to the DEA. And soon he went even deeper. “We sent [him] . . . to work with the BNDD and the CIA to try and buy off some of the heroin labs in the Golden Triangle,” Ehrlichman said. Charles Colson confirmed to Len Colodny that Krogh was “carrying large amounts of money over to Southeast Asia to pay off some of the drug lords. That had to be Agency work.” Colson also wrote: “What I remember is that there was a CIA contact, that Krogh dealt with … The CIA liaison to the White House, by the way, also dealt with Hunt all through the Watergate period—one of the very suspicious and unexplored aspects of the CIA’s involvement.”

Krogh had been a student of University of Washington law professor Roy Prosterman, an expert in the design of agrarian reforms intended to blunt Communist incursions. Prosterman designed the “Vietnam pacification program,” which had aspects of land redistribution but became best known for its association with the Phoenix Program, an operation in which thousands were assassinated. Krogh traveled to Vietnam prior to Nixon’s election, ostensibly to assess land reform programs in association with Prosterman. Under Nixon, though Krogh’s White House job involved domestic policy, he went back to Vietnam for the BNDD, purportedly to address the growing drug addiction of American troops. The BNDD also sent John Dean to the Philippines, and that’s where he was when the Watergate break-in took place. Dean’s wife Maureen got a job in 1971 with the BNDD, organizing the new National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse despite what Maureen describes in her memoirs as a lack of relevant experience.

Krogh served four and a half months in prison for his role in the Ellsberg job, went back to legal practice, and now lectures on legal ethics.

 

Intelligence Czar

John Dean seemed to love the role of intelligence czar. As private investigator turned White House gumshoe Jack Caulfield would recall, “I saw a desire [on the part of Dean] to take greater chances as [Dean] saw the potential rewards. And the key to the ball game was intelligence—who was going to get it and who was going to provide it. Dean saw that and played the game heartily . . . I was getting my instructions from Dean . . .”  What made Dean so successful was his ability to protect himself legally and otherwise, and to disassociate himself personally from those very intelligence activities. When, on March 21, 1973, he famously told Nixon that there was a “cancer on the presidency,” he began his description of the whole Watergate episode to the president by putting the onus on Haldeman, rather than himself, as the person who originated White House intelligence operations.

DEAN: It started with an instruction to me from Bob Haldeman to see if we couldn’t set up a perfectly legitimate campaign intelligence operation over at the Re-Election Committee. [emphasis added]

NIXON: Hm-hmm.

Next, Dean denied any involvement in intelligence and claimed he decided to rely on someone else:

DEAN: Not being in this business, I turned to somebody who had been in this business, Jack Caulfield.

Eventually, Dean continued, G. Gordon Liddy, counsel to the Committee to Re-elect the President, was assigned responsibility as in-house expert on intelligence operations because he “had an intelligence background from the FBI.”

So, Dean added, “Liddy was told to put together this plan, you know, how he would run an intelligence operation.”

Was told by whom? Dean doesn’t say, but according to Liddy, he “was told” by Dean himself.

Thanks to post-Watergate reporting by several journalists and authors— reporting that failed to gain wide circulation or was aggressively attacked by Dean and others with a vested interest in controlling the story—we now know the following:

• In November 1971, it was Dean who actually recruited two private eyes to do a walk-through of Watergate. Jack Caulfield, a former New York City cop, relayed the order to Tony Ulasewicz, who had worked for Nixon in the past. “Dean wants you to check out the offices of the DNC.” Ulasewicz complied and simply walked through the offices as a visitor, casing out the location of desks, who sat where, and any other useful information.

• In January 1972, it was Dean who encouraged Liddy, counsel to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, to set up a “really first class intelligence operation,” which led to Operation Gemstone, an intricate plan consisting of several potential clandestine operations, each one named after a precious stone. These included eavesdropping on—and infiltration of—Democratic campaigns. Liddy recalls in his autobiography, Will, that it was Dean who “encouraged him to think bigger” because previous intelligence operations had been “inadequate.” Liddy, at Dean’s prodding, incorporated eavesdropping on—and infiltration of—Democratic campaigns.

• In April 1972, it was Dean—not Mitchell or Haldeman—who was reportedly the instigator of the break-in at the DNC. Dean ordered Jeb Magruder to ask Liddy: “Do you think you can get into Watergate?” Magruder belatedly admitted this to reporters Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin: “The first plan [ for a break-in] had been initiated by Dean,” he told them.

• In June 1972, according to an account offered by Robert F. Bennett— E. Howard Hunt’s boss at the CIA front Mullen Company and himself later a U.S. senator—it was Dean who offered Hunt hush money during the Watergate cover-up. Nowhere in the literature of Watergate has it been suggested that President Nixon knew anything about such an offer by Dean to Hunt so early in the game.

On June 23, 1972, Dean prompted what became the key evidence of a “cover-up” by Nixon: the so-called smoking gun tape. Dean told Haldeman that money found on one of the burglars had been traced to a Mexican-Texan money trail and “our problem now is to stop the FBI from opening up a whole lot of other things.” In other words, Dean convinced Haldeman to discuss the cessation of an investigation, a piece of lawyerly advice that would become part of Haldeman and Nixon’s infamous smoking gun conversation leading to charges of obstruction of justice and cover-up.

Ironically, if anyone was blocking (and monitoring) the investigation, it was John Dean. When FBI director Pat Gray refused to curtail his investigation into the money trail, Dean insisted on sitting in on every one of the FBI’s witness interviews of White House staff. Gray, in his memoirs, concluded that Dean was central to “hatching the plot that would eventually drive Nixon from office.”

 

Carefully reviewing the accumulated facts, it appears that Poppy Bush and John Dean were not serving Richard Nixon’s interests at all. Far from advising the president and advancing his interests, they appear to have been skillfully engineering a series of crucial events whose only outcome could be devastating for Nixon—and then audaciously urged him to take responsibility for those very events.

J. Anthony Lukas, in a 1976 review of Dean’s book Blind Ambition for the New York Times Book Review, wrote: “Dean was one of the sleaziest White House operatives, a compulsively ambitious striver who pandered to his superiors’ worst impulses, largely engineered the cover-up of their activities, turned informer just in time to plea bargain for himself, got sprung from prison after serving only four months and then signed a contract to write this book.”

 

Neighbors and Friends

In the spring of 1973, as Dean began cooperating with prosecutors, Weicker decided he wanted to meet Dean. In his memoirs, the senator describes the origins of their strategic alliance this way: “Through one of those loose Washington connections—an associate of mine who knew an associate of Dean’s lawyer—I began trying to set up a meeting with Dean. Like everyone else in Washington, I had lots of questions for him.” That Weicker had to go through intermediaries seems strange, because all he had to do was open his front door. Sometime in the spring of 1973— records do not reveal whether it was before or shortly after their first meeting—John Dean and Lowell Weicker became neighbors, living in townhouses in Alexandria, Virginia, across the street from each other. (In 1974, when Dean wanted to move to California but was having trouble selling his house, Weicker bought it.)

Nevertheless, two weeks before the Watergate Committee hearings were scheduled to start, about the beginning of May, the lawyers arranged a meeting between Dean and Weicker at the Rockville, Maryland, home of Dean’s lawyer Charles Shaffer.

The moment Dean got Weicker’s ear, he went way beyond simply telling Weicker what he knew. He was laying it on triple thick—being unnecessarily dramatic, as if to ensure that Weicker “got it.” The senator would have to be wearing industrial-strength earplugs and blinders not to.

During the meeting, according to Weicker’s memoirs, Dean dramatically (and quite unnecessarily) pulled Weicker into another room to “speak privately.” “Are you sure you are able to handle the dirt the White House is planning to hit you with?” Dean asked. Weicker listened carefully.

“Are you worried about the White House being able to accuse you of improper campaign contributions?” Dean continued. “They have every intention of using the material as blackmail.” Dean was referring to the Townhouse money, and he was letting the senator know that he knew Weicker was a recipient. If this was an effort by Dean to inflame Weicker even further, it succeeded. Weicker, who had already been warned by Jack Gleason, was now snorting with anger at Nixon.

 

As odd a coincidence as Dean’s ending up living across the street from Weicker was his legal representation in this period. In his memoir, Blind Ambition, Dean says that he contacted an outside lawyer for advice and that the man happened to refer Dean to Charles Shaffer, with whom Dean was already acquainted: “I had met Charlie once, on a duck-hunting trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, many years earlier.”

As a young lawyer, Shaffer had worked on the staff of the Warren Commission. This made him yet another of a growing list of people associated with the JFK scenario or “investigation” who show up in Watergate.

Dean’s cocounsel was Robert McCandless, who had been his brother-inlaw while both had been married to sisters. McCandless was the mentor who had guided Dean when he got in trouble with his law firm and rebounded with a job on Capitol Hill.

After Watergate, McCandless would partner with Bernard Fensterwald, who had represented former CIA officer and Watergate burglar James McCord—the one whose botched door-taping ensured that the burglars were discovered. Fensterwald would make an unsuccessful attempt to become chief counsel of the House committee investigating assassinations; his bid was adamantly opposed by the committee’s vice chairman, Representative Henry Gonzalez, sponsor of the first resolution calling for an assassination inquiry.

At the time he became cocounsel for Dean, McCandless resigned from the law firm Burwell, Hansen and McCandless, which handled the business of several CIA proprietaries, seemingly independent firms that were actually run by, and for the benefit of, the agency. His firm’s CIA ties are cited, among other places, in a book coauthored by former CIA officer Philip Agee.

Some years after representing Dean, McCandless went on to represent Haiti’s military junta. McCandless has denied having CIA connections.

Hays Gorey, a special correspondent for Time, was invited into a Dean strategy session with his lawyers, and soon wrote impressed dispatches about the earnest convert. Gorey wrote: “His youthful appearance showing no sign of ordeals past or to come . . . John W. Dean III exudes confidence like a Dale Carnegie graduate. He is clear of eye, strong of voice, steady of hand. His self-assurance may be justified, for Dean is the only major Watergate witness who is both able and willing to tell a lot.”

 

Soon, Weicker and Dean were the best of friends, sharing walks, even dinner. As Jack Gleason put it, “Weicker was Dean’s drinking buddy.” Through his weeks of preparation, Weicker seemed thrilled at the prospect of having such an exciting witness as Dean. And when Dean took the witness stand at the Senate Watergate hearings, in late June 1973, he was eager to be helpful. His first day of testimony had been devoted mostly to reciting a 245-page “opening statement.” As he would later reflect in Blind Ambition, “The squealer’s fear was still very much on my mind . . . I realized . . . how difficult it would be to give a convincing account of my motivation.”

Never arrogant, often humble, always appearing to be sincere, Washington’s “Golden Boy,” as the press quickly dubbed the fair-haired whistleblower, was highly conscious of his image. At times Dean would take a deep breath before answering a question, he wrote, “to make it look as if I were thinking.”

One of the questions made him particularly nervous. It came from Senator Herman Talmadge: “Now, after all those facts were available to you, why did you not, as counsel to the President, go in at that time and tell him what was happening?”

“Senator,” Dean responded, “I did not have access to the President.” Dean quickly gauged that this was a weak response, and shifted tack. “I was never presumptuous enough to try to pound on the door to get in.”

Talmadge was still incredulous.

Dean, feeling suddenly vulnerable, tried blaming the access problem on a remote, inaccessible president; and when that didn’t work, he shifted blame onto the president’s aides, claiming he’d been told his reporting channel was to Haldeman and Ehrlichman. And when that didn’t work, he tried “another angle.” He actually blamed himself. “Senator, I was participating in the cover-up at that time.”

That worked. During the break, McCandless told him that that one sentence went a long way to winning the senators’ confidence.

When Weicker took center stage, the first thing out of his mouth was a speech alluding to a plot against him. In his memoirs, Dean would attribute the outburst to what he had earlier sprung on Weicker at that meeting in Shaffer’s house, “when I informed him of a White House strategy to ‘neutralize’ him . . . with Jack Gleason’s 1970 Town House Operation.” Dean concluded that Weicker was “still piqued about what I had told him.”

The hearings were going well, and Dean now suggested something that might make them go even better. “I might also add,” he said, “that in my possession is . . . a memorandum that was requested of me, to prepare a means to attack the enemies of the White House. There was also maintained what was called an ‘enemies list’ which was rather extensive and continually updated.”

Weicker asked for copies. Dean said he would supply them.

“The press went crazy over the enemies list,” Dean later recalled.

 

The Burning Bush

Finally, it was time for the man behind the curtain to take his bow. The man was George H. W. Bush.

But first, a bit of anonymous leaking. On July 11, someone informed the Washington Post that Senator Lowell Weicker was a recipient of money from the murky-sounding Townhouse fund. Weicker, as expected, went bananas. On July 12, the senator was quoted in the Washington Post as admitting having received the money, but indignantly asserting that he had done nothing wrong and that he had properly reported the money.

That evening, Weicker took a call. It was RNC chair Poppy Bush on the line. Poppy thought Weicker might like to know that he, Poppy, had in his possession some receipts from Townhouse—including some relating to Weicker.

Actually, Poppy confided, he too was on the list. He seemed to be suggesting: We’re in this together.

Then the chairman of the Republican Party put an odd question to the freshman senator: “What should I do with the receipts?” Bush asked. “Burn them?”

Now Weicker knew the game: the White House was setting him up. “Destroying potential evidence is a criminal offense,” Weicker would later write in his memoirs. Here, he felt sure, was the head of the Republican Party, calling for his boss, Richard Nixon, trying to knock out the man who represented the biggest threat to the president.

Outraged, Weicker told Bush that under no circumstances should he even think about burning any documents. Then Weicker got in touch with a federal prosecutor.

Bush denied the story, but Weicker stands by it to this day.

As head of the Republican Party, Bush should have taken the receipts to the party’s lawyer months earlier, when Gleason had turned them over, and asked for advice, thereby invoking lawyer-client privilege.

Though Weicker says he knew a trap when he saw one, and told Bush so, he saw a fake trap—the one he was supposed to see. And he did exactly what was expected. Had Weicker thought it through, he would have realized that this rash act by Bush hardly served Nixon’s interest. It was too obvious, too aggressive, and too certain to provoke ire. If Bush was looking out for Nixon, he was doing so in an awfully reckless fashion, especially for a man noted for his prudence. He was making Lowell Weicker mad, not just at him but also at the president. And what had been for Watergate investigator Weicker an opportunistic crusade with an edge of authentic outrage over Republican abuses in the White House was now becoming personal. Now Weicker’s own political survival was at stake. Now it was Nixon or him.

As the nation’s eyes fixed on the televised hearings, Lowell Weicker emerged as a veritable bulldog against Richard Nixon. In the course of two months, and with help from John Dean, he revealed that Nixon had an enemies’ list, that the White House was trying to embarrass the senator with false Townhouse fund allegations, that Nixon was connected to both the Watergate and Ellsberg break-ins, that Nixon was a participant in a cover-up.

Weicker made an emotional speech during one of the hearings about how the Nixon administration had “done its level best to subvert the [Watergate] committee hearings.” He stated that Republicans were appalled by “these illegal, unconstitutional and gross acts.” Republicans, he insisted, “do not cover up . . .” He received cheers and applause. Weicker was riding high.

It was one of the defining moments of his life. Indeed, when I called him in 2008 and tried to share with him what I had discovered about the true background of Watergate, he wouldn’t hear of it. “You are talking to somebody that, having spent a major portion of his political career and life on this investigation, I really don’t like to be told by other people what was going on,” Weicker told me.

 

Butterfield: The Icing on the Cake

The man who actually came bearing the knife with which Richard Nixon would commit political hara-kiri was not Bush or Dean or Weicker or Hunt. It was an obscure figure named Alexander Butterfield, a Nixon aide who supervised White House internal security, which included working closely with the Secret Service and coordinating the installation of Nixon’s secret taping system.

At first Alexander Butterfield seemed hesitant when he sat down with staff members of the Watergate Committee on July 13. “I was hoping you fellows wouldn’t ask me about that,” he purportedly said when questioned about the possible existence of such a White House taping system. Then he proceeded to describe it in detail.

Nixon wanted to tape conversations for the historical record. Butterfield obliged and found technicians to install tiny voice-activated microphones. “Everything was taped,” he told his astonished listeners, “as long as the President was in attendance.”

Within days of Butterfield’s revelations, this previously obscure White House security officer became another Watergate hero, a man who followed his conscience. As New York Times contributor A. Robert Smith wrote two years later, “It was Friday the 13th and Butterfield had put the Senate investigators on the trail of the ‘smoking pistol’—hard evidence of impeachable behavior, preserved on tape—that would force the President to resign.”

Why had Butterfield done it? In the Times, Smith wrote that “Butterfield’s testimony was… remarkable for a man who, in 20 years of military service, had been taught to follow orders rather than pursue higher ideals.”

The thrust of the Times piece was that Butterfield had changed. But there were hints that there might be more to it—that Butterfield might still be following orders, just not ones from the commander in chief.

Buried toward the end of the article was brief mention of allegations that Butterfield had been in the CIA, followed by Butterfield’s denial. Butterfield said that his only contact with the CIA had been when he was in the Air Force. From 1964 to 1967, as militar y aide to Defense Secretar y Robert McNamara, he had been in charge of “rehabilitating” Cuban survivors of the Bay of Pigs invasion—the same work that various sources have said Hunt and McCord performed. Yet left unmentioned was the involvement of just such Cuban survivors in Watergate, and in Nixon’s downfall.

Years later, Butterfield admitted that immediately prior to joining the White House staff he had worked as the military’s “CIA liaison” in Australia. Moreover, while Butterfield claimed that Haldeman had offered him the White House job, Haldeman was quite emphatic in recalling that Butterfield had written to him asking for a position. If Haldeman was right about this too, then it adds to the list of people with CIA connections—notably Hunt, Dean, McCord, and Poppy Bush—who had pushed hard to get into Nixon’s inner sanctum.

Butterfield and the tapes had come to the committee’s attention courtesy of two people: Woodward of the Washington Post, who suggested they look into Butterfield; and Dean, who mentioned in his opening statement that he thought his conversations were being taped.

The person who first directed Congress’s attention to the smoking gun conversation, on May 14, 1973, was General Vernon Walters, CIA deputy director.

It looks a bit like a CIA layer cake, with Butterfield as the icing.

 

The best laid plans require contingencies. If a group was setting out to steer the Watergate affair in a particular direction, it would have been advisable to make sure that nothing went wrong.

One thing that could have gone wrong was that the Watergate Committee staff might figure out that a group of CIA-connected figures with ties to the Bay of Pigs and the events of November 22, 1963, was setting Nixon up.

The person who was most potentially problematic in that regard was Carmine Bellino, the Senate committee’s chief investigator. An old associate of the Kennedys, he had been around the block a few times—and if anything smelling of 1963 surfaced, he would be most likely to follow it up.

So it is interesting to note that one of the few overt measures Poppy Bush took as RNC chairman during Watergate was to attack Carmine Bellino. In this, he relied on hearsay from others—much as he had in claiming that the Bull Elephants wanted Dean to testify—and years earlier in telephoning in the “threat” to President Kennedy supposedly represented by James Parrott in 1963.

During this same eventful month of July 1973, George Bush issued a long statement demanding an investigation into whether Bellino had ordered electronic surveillance of the Republicans in 1960. “This matter,” Bush announced in a press conference on July 24, 1973, “is serious enough to concern the Senate Watergate Committee, and particularly since its chief investigator is the subject of the charges.”

Three days after Bush’s press conference, twenty-two Republican senators signed a letter to Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the Senate Watergate Committee, urging that the committee investigate Bush’s charges and that Bellino be suspended. The Republicans had chosen their target well, and Ervin had no choice but to comply. The Bellino flap took up a lot of the Watergate Committee’s time. It also neutralized Bellino, who never had a chance to fully defend himself or to dig deeper.

Committee chairman Sam Ervin would later state, with a hint of bitterness, “One can but admire the zeal exhibited by the RNC and its journalistic allies in their desperate efforts to invent a red herring to drag across the trail which leads to the truth of Watergate.”

In fact, it was Ervin himself who had snapped at the herring. He mistakenly assumed that Poppy’s mission was to ardently defend Richard Nixon. What he missed was what everybody missed: that Watergate was actually not a Nixon operation at all, but a deep, deep covert operation against Nixon— seeking to protect the prerogatives and secrets of a group accountable to no one.

 

The Little Man on the Cake

If Poppy was the blushing bride of this enterprise, his groom atop the cake would be a surprising figure: the tough, no-nonsense Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski.Jaworski entered the Nixon chase in October 1973, after Haig helped persuade Nixon to force out the independent counsel Archibald Cox, yet another ill-advised act that turned public opinion against Nixon and suggested his guilt. A survey of books on Watergate shows that little attention was paid to Jaworski’s background, or, especially, to how he came to be prosecutor.

Jaworski was a conservative Texas Democrat who had actually backed Nixon in 1968. As a young man, he had served as legal counsel to some of Houston’s most powerful figures—oil and cotton kings so influential they had the ear of presidents like Franklin Roosevelt. Perhaps these connections helped him obtain an important post in World War II: prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. This activity earned him a top-secret clearance that for some reason was never relinquished after the end of the war. As will be discussed in chapter 16, prosecutions of war criminals both in Asia and in Europe were not simply lofty and symbolic pursuits of justice. They were intelligence exercises, in which powerful figures from the losing side could be made to reveal valuable information, ranging from the locations of billions of dollars of war loot to the country’s scientific and military technology advances.

After the war, Jaworski returned to his Houston law practice and became a close friend of, and lawyer for, Lyndon Johnson. Jaworski and Johnson’s professional and personal relationship would prove mutually beneficial. In his memoir, Jaworski said that his good friend LBJ “had a boundless capacity for hard work . . . Lyndon was a man of extra dimensions, who thought bigger, laughed louder, and got mad faster than most men. He had the ability . . . to make people move, jump, change their minds.”

When JFK was assassinated, Jaworski, along with a friend, Southern Methodist University law school dean Robert Storey, another Nuremberg prosecutor, quickly launched a Texas-based investigation of the assassination under the auspices of Texas attorney general Waggoner Carr. When Earl Warren was asked to convene a national commission of inquiry, he told the Texans that no independent Texas-based investigation could be allowed, principally because it would be viewed with suspicion. He also said that the Texans could not work for the Warren Commission. But he agreed to a compromise: the Texans could handle the Texas end of the investigation for the commission, and could have one of their number present at every commission hearing. Thus, Jaworski and his friends were monitoring all proceedings, including those at which Bush’s old friend and Oswald’s mentor George de Mohrenschildt testified.

Jaworski’s own memoir, oddly titled Confession and Avoidance, is in itself an elaborate exercise in self-clearance. The book, published in 1979 during a period of renewed interest in the Kennedy assassination, belittles Oswald’s mother for asserting that she believes her son was framed—and portrays her as self-serving and money-grubbing, while excoriating anyone who does not accept that the Warren Commission did a stellar job.

The impact of John Kennedy’s death has been overshadowed now by the ghoulish industry that grew out of it. Over forty books have been published attacking the Warren Report, or introducing new theories. Some of these books have been described as “scholarly,” which means they contain footnotes . . . others are in the conspiracy game for financial gain, notoriety, excitement, or all of these.

Because of Jaworski’s association with the effort to prove that there was no conspiracy in JFK’s death, his emergence as part of the group that drove Nixon from office cannot be automatically dismissed as unrelated. Nor can the background as to how he ended up as the Watergate prosecutor.

Jaworski, it turns out, was recommended by national security aide Alexander Haig. General Haig was a career military man and deeply enmeshed in the complicated intrigues and power struggles surrounding presidents Nixon and Ford. A White House survivor, Haig was first a top aide to Henry Kissinger, then became chief of staff after Haldeman resigned; later the military man helped persuade Nixon to resign, and retained power throughout Nixon’s fall, inserting himself into the process of determining which of the expresident’s tapes became public. As we now know, this was a crucial function, as certain tapes could be presented in a way that suggested Nixon’s guilt, while others would suggest the opposite.

Haig’s rapid career rise, from the lowest third of his class at West Point to positions in a succession of Democratic and Republican administrations starting with JFK’s, benefited in part from sponsorship by Joseph Califano Jr., a powerful Washington attorney who served in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was considered a close ally of LBJ’s. Washington Post chair and publisher Katharine Graham initially brought Califano and his law partner Edward Bennett Williams together and the two attorneys spoke of lunching frequently on Saturdays with managing editor Ben Bradlee or “other pals from the Post.” Complicating matters and illuminating these tangled alliances, Califano served as counsel for both the Post and the Democratic National Committee—the very entity purportedly victimized by the president’s men. As secretary of the Army under LBJ, Califano had been responsible for looking after veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, along with two of his aides: Haig and Alexander Butterfield.

As noted earlier, Haig may have also had a past relationship with Bob Woodward when Woodward was in Naval Intelligence, prior to the latter becoming the reporter who broke the Watergate story. This raises the question of whether the “high White House official” who recommended Woodward to former Naval Intelligence officer Ben Bradlee and/or former Navy secretary Ignatius at the Post was not Haig himself. That Haig, who was working in the Pentagon’s Operations office in 1963, also had something to do with Jaworski’s becoming the Watergate prosecutor, poses intriguing questions— as does almost everything about this remarkable circle of friends.

 

Jaworski was also, by Poppy Bush’s own standards, “a close friend” to the Bushes. He certainly met with George H. W. Bush’s approval. In his book All the Best, Poppy praises Jaworski as “determined to do a thorough job” and labels him “a respected Houston lawyer and a longtime friend of ours.”

The thorough job? Ordering Nixon to turn over a carefully considered group of sixty-four additional tapes—including the smoking gun tape that would implicate Nixon in a cover-up. Two years later, during the Senate confirmation hearings on Poppy’s appointment as director of the CIA, Jaworski would go out of his way to give Bush a clean bill of health on Townhouse. Poppy, citing Jaworski’s good seal of approval, paraphrased his friend: “clean, clean, clean.” Poppy later successfully courted Democrat Jaworski for an endorsement of the Reagan-Bush ticket in 1980.

Jaworski was one of those mentioned briefly by the Washington Post in its lengthy 1967 series on CIA-connected foundations. As a trustee and attorney for one of those foundations, he had declined to answer the Post’s questions. This factor seemingly went unnoticed when he became Watergate prosecutor. It does not appear in any of the major accounts of that episode.

Also, one thing was clear about Jaworski’s Watergate inquiry: he was not interested in pursuing Poppy Bush. “We sat down with Jaworski’s staff and went over name after name after name,” recalled Jack Gleason. “They were mainly after [Nixon’s close friend] Bebe Rebozo. I spent two days at a hundred dollars an hour with my lawyer listening to ‘have you ever heard of Jose Martinez’ and name after name. At one point we went over the list of the recipients of the six thousand dollars. And I said, . . . the only one I remember clearly is George Bush. And they just brushed right past it . . . It was a name they didn’t want to hear. I remember it so clearly because it was such a colossal screw-up.”

Assistant special prosecutor Charles Ruff sent Jaworski a memo concerning Poppy Bush. “George Bush received a total of approximately $112,000 from the Townhouse Operation,” Ruff wrote. “Bush also received, probably through his campaign manager, $6,000 in cash.” Then, he concluded, “Bush is neither a target of our investigation nor a potential witness.”

Poppy had the perfect cover. If he was one of the recipients, whether as beneficiary or victim of a setup, how could he be one of the authors of the scheme itself ? And if that failed, he also had a perfect friend: Leon Jaworski.

 

Getting the Tapes

What in the end brought Nixon down was the release of his tapes, in particular, one portion: the “smoking gun” conversation. Whittling down the materials of Watergate to the few select pieces that could be orchestrated to suggest Nixon’s culpability was the key.

It would be the responsibility of Poppy’s good friend Jaworski to wrest the incriminating tapes from Nixon. Poppy’s own diary, noted in All the Best, is interesting on Jaworski’s appointment and role:

Nixon had appointed Leon Jaworski—a respected Houston lawyer and longtime friend of oursto replace Archibald Cox as the special prosecutor. Determined to do a thorough job, Jaworski . . . subpoenae[d] an additional 65 [sic—correct number is 64] tapes and documents . . . Many more shocking revelations were on the tapes, but the most damning—the “smoking gun” tape—were a conversation from June 23, 1972 where Nixon could be heard telling Haldeman to block the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in, which had occurred just six days earlier. This was proof the President had been involved, at least in the cover-up. [emphasis added]

As noted earlier, Bush, who within eighteen months would become director of the CIA, never mentioned the CIA’s involvement in the Watergate break-in. By committing this sin of omission, Bush was leaving out some important context and smudging a trail of clues that might otherwise have led back to himself.

 

The Loyalty Trail

As noted multiple times in previous chapters, Poppy Bush appears to have labored creatively to create benign explanations for his proximity to controversial operations.

The easiest way to do that with regard to Watergate would be to establish an auxiliary role for him or his close allies in the original plot ascribed to Nixon. That is, were an investigation to look into Watergate, it would find Nixon involved with serious wrongdoing, and find that person ever so slightly tied to that wrongdoing, but in an ultimately harmless way that would have no adverse long-term consequences. That way, he could have his cake and eat it too.

Poppy had achieved that effect when the Townhouse Operation, run by his allies, had made sure that he was one of the recipients of its cash— though guilty of no obvious wrongdoing. The same would need to be true of Watergate.

It is in this light that we now consider the fact that some funds involved in Watergate would be traced back to Texas members of Poppy’s team.

In his diary entries, Bush shows no sign of finding it interesting that some of the Watergate monies traced back to close friends of his. Nixon and Haldeman, however, took note. So did acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray. Wrote Gray in his memoirs:

We had made progress tracing the four Mexican checks to the Texas Finance Committee to Re-Elect the President. Its chairman, the Houston oilman Robert Allen, sent us back to Maurice Stans [treasurer of CREEP] . . . who acknowledged that Manuel Ogarrio may have gotten the funds from a Texas campaign contributor but declined to elaborate without talking to his lawyer . . . On August 24, another Houston oilman, Roy Winchester of Pennzoil, told agents that in April a Mexican he believed to be Manuel Ogarrio came to his office and gave him four checks valued at “over $80,000,” which Winchester then hand-delivered to [CREEP’s] Hugh Sloan in Washington. [emphasis added]

The FBI, in short, was following a trail that led directly to associates of George H. W. Bush. Pennzoil was the oil company of William C. Liedtke Jr. and his brother Hugh, Poppy’s former partners in Zapata Petroleum. Winchester had flown the eighty thousand dollars by private Pennzoil jet to Washington in order to get it into Sloan’s hands before a new federal election law went into effect in April 1972 that required disclosure of the names of the campaign donors and the recipients of such funds. The ultimate effect of this information was that some people concluded that Poppy was extraloyal to Nixon. And despite the sinister elements, particularly the foreign money, Jaworski found no wrongdoing on Bush’s part.

The FBI’s inquiries into the Texas money chain went nowhere, thanks to the CIA’s interference. Ditto an investigation by Texas congressman Wright Patman, an old-time populist who was chair of the House Banking Committee. Like FBI director Gray, Patman had been able to trace the money found in the pockets of burglar Bernard Barker back to the Texas chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President, William Liedtke. But before Patman could issue some twenty-three subpoenas for CREEP officials, his fellow committee members voted 20–15 on October 3, 1972, to stop the investigation.

What was interesting about the Texas connection was that it essentially put everyone in bed together, just as the break-in put Nixon in bed with the CIA. Even though Nixon was secretly feuding with the CIA, in the end it would appear to anyone investigating that everyone was on one team. But of course the Texans would not be found to have done anything wrong.

In fact, nobody did much of anything to pursue that lead. Not the Senate Watergate Committee, not the Watergate special prosecutor’s office, and not the intrepid Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein, who famously resolved to “follow the money” at the advice of Woodward’s mysterious source, Deep Throat. All would claim that they were more interested in the dollar trail than the Watergate burglary itself, but when they got even remotely close to the source of the funds—the Texas money—they all stopped.

For Bush, this was, if anything, proof to Nixon of his loyalty. His group had raised money for CREEP and for the burglars, had sent a jet to bring the money. It was like Bush’s Parrott phone call: I was on the right side, so how could I be a traitor?

 

Poppy’s Foundation

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Washington Post’s Richard Harwood, whose reporting drew from investigations by House Banking chairman Wright Patman, was his citation of dozens of prominent figures and entities that served as conduits for CIA funds. Although Harwood did not explore these connections in depth, it is striking to discover how many of the CIA-connected figures were Texans. And not just Texans, but Texans with important ties either to Poppy Bush or to November 22, 1963, or both. Among those listed was the family foundation of the head of Dallas’s Republic National Bank, whose building was the headquarters of the Dallas oil-intelligence elite, including Dresser Industries and—for years—of George de Mohrenschildt. Another entity identified by the Post as connected to the CIA was the Houston-based San Jacinto Fund, which was incorporated by oilman John W. Mecom Sr., one of George de Mohrenschildt’s backers. And a third was the family foundation of Peter J. O’Donnell Jr., who had been the chairman of the Republican Party in Texas at the time of the Kennedy assassination.

O’Donnell was responsible for the candidacies of both Poppy Bush and Army Intelligence man Jack Crichton for statewide office in the fall of 1963. It was O’Donnell, in other words, who provided both men with the cover they needed to move about Texas and meet with all sorts of people in the critical period before and after November 22. The significance of O’Donnell’s presence on this list of the CIA-connected, or that of the others mentioned here, was not necessarily apparent at the time, and was not raised in the Post or elsewhere.

 

On Oil Connections

There is one other intriguing aspect to the Texas connection.

It turns out that in March 1974, as the effort to oust Nixon continued to mount, Congress and the Nixon administration were making things very uncomfortable for the Bush crowd.

There were news reports that federal officials and members of Congress were looking into possible antitrust violations by people who sat simultaneously on multiple oil company boards. In a December 1973 letter responding to members of Congress, an assistant attorney general had confirmed that the Nixon Justice Department was looking at these so-called interlocking directorates.

Most striking about the long list of violators is this: a significant majority of them had been friends of, fund-raisers for, or major donors to Poppy Bush. Many had also been employers or sponsors of George de Mohrenschildt. The list included the son of oil depletion king Clint Murchison Sr.; Admiral Arleigh Burke Jr., who had allied himself with Allen Dulles in post–Bay of Pigs inquiries into the disaster and criticized Kennedy’s handling of the invasion; George Brown of Brown and Root, backer of LBJ and Poppy and employer of de Mohrenschildt; Dean McGee, former business partner of the late oil depletion backer Senator Robert Kerr; Toddie Lee Wynne, whose family provided lodging to Marina Oswald after Kennedy’s assassination; military intelligence man Jack Crichton; and Neil Mallon, Poppy’s well-connected “uncle.”

Who had been investigating these men? Nixon’s Justice Department. It was almost a perfect echo of what was going on in JFK’s final year in office—and in life. Jack Kennedy had been fighting with the same group of independent oilmen over the oil depletion allowance, and Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department had sent grudging FBI agents into oil company offices to examine their books. Nixon and his old nemesis JFK had both angered the same people, and both had been removed from the presidency.

 

The Extent of the Infiltration

Nixon was “paranoid” about the CIA. He imagined that agency operatives were everywhere, working to undermine him. Was he crazy, or was he right?

So far, we have seen many people whose actions undermined Nixon, and found in each case what appear to be CIA connections: Dean, Dean’s lawyers, Hunt, Butterfield (who exposed the White House taping system), Jaworski, McCord, Barker, Martinez, Sturgis.

And then there is Jeb Magruder, who played a crucial role in accusing his boss John Mitchell, Nixon’s campaign manager, and Nixon himself of being behind the Watergate activities. Magruder was a crucial figure in the downfall of Nixon because he had been the number-two man to John Mitchell, and Mitchell became the highest-ranking member of Nixon’s team— indeed, of any administration—to go to jail. Nailing Mitchell was crucial to nailing Nixon. Magruder would offer detailed, though often demonstrably false, testimony implicating Mitchell, asserting that not only did Mitchell know about the DNC break-ins, but that he was in fact primarily responsible for orchestrating the cover-up.

Back in college, Magruder’s adviser had been William Sloane Coffin, the liberal theologian. Coffin is most remembered for his opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet his background included membership in Skull and Bones and service in the Central Intelligence Agency that he himself acknowledged. He also had been chaplain at Andover and was a lifelong friend of Poppy Bush. Indeed, Poppy had brought Coffin into Skull and Bones. “There’s no specific creed that they are supposed to go out and spread,” Alexandra Robbins, author of a book on Skull and Bones, told the Washington Post. “They do have this agenda to further and bolster their superiority complex . . . and to get its members into positions of power, and to have those members hire other members into similar positions of power.” Coffin’s subsequent liberal credentials notwithstanding, during the period in which he had an influence on Magruder, he was still a creature of that world. Years later, when Magruder became a key witness against Nixon’s aides in the Watergate trials, his lawyer was James Bierbower, who had served as vice president of Southern Air Transport, one of the CIA’s largest air proprietaries.

 

Denial

The reader may be wondering why almost everything in this chapter—in particular its theme that Nixon appears to have been ousted in a nonviolent coup—is not common knowledge.

To understand why, it is necessary to contemplate the system through which information is disseminated to the public, and the mind-set with which it is received. The common narrative on the most complex, disturbing events is usually generated by insiders—so-called investigative commissions made up of figures acceptable to the establishment, and by a handful of designated authorities deemed suitably presentable as well. For the rest of us, it is almost always easier on the conscience to accept the most benign interpretation. If everything is tied up neatly, then we do not have to do anything. The key to it all is the gatekeepers.

I got an insight into all this when I telephoned Stanley Kutler, an academic who has authored several books related to Nixon and Watergate, and whose name comes up most often on Internet searches under the term “Watergate scholar.” I had hoped to find some “expert” to review my manuscript and poke holes where holes needed to be poked. I later learned that Kutler had testified for John Dean in a legal proceeding against the authors of Silent Coup, and in another against Gordon Liddy, who had alleged that Dean was the guiding hand behind the Watergate burglary.

When I called Kutler, he asked, “Have you spoken to John?” When I asked what John he meant, he said, “John Dean. He’s a very close personal friend.” When I mentioned Dean’s aggressiveness toward writers, he replied, “I have enough sense never to challenge him in a court of law. Of course he’s litigious, when you have all that crap coming down on you.”

(In the end, Dean dropped his Silent Coup suit; coauthor Len Colodny, who declined to settle with the former White House counsel, received $410,000 from his own insurance company to allow Dean to dismiss the lawsuit—and a pledge from Dean not to sue in the future. And a federal judge dismissed Dean’s suit against Liddy.)

Dean doesn’t seem to have suffered inordinately for his role in Watergate. His one-to-four-year jail sentence became, in his own words, just four months, part of it in a government “safe house.” He made millions off book deals and moved to the West Coast, where he became an affluent Beverly Hills investment banker. Asked about his business success, Dean has been markedly secretive, declining to name his partners or clients. “I just quietly want to do my own thing, without flash or splash . . . We have no advertising, no marketing, and there’s no shortage of business,” Dean said.

In the years since Watergate, Dean has assiduously offered himself as available to help others understand the complicated affair, thereby narrating his own saga. In this, he again has positioned himself, with great effect, at the control point for information. These “assists” have ranged from helping an investigative reporting class at the University of Illinois whose project was to try to discover Deep Throat’s identity to aiding documentary makers.

Jim Hougan, author of Secret Agenda, which posits a CIA role in Watergate, was hired by Time magazine to review Silent Coup at the time of its release in 1991. Hougan says that after receiving the assignment, he got a call from Hays Gorey, the onetime Time correspondent who had lionized Dean in 1973 and later coauthored Maureen Dean’s memoirs. Gorey, by 1991 a Time editor, wanted to be assured that Hougan planned to pan Silent Coup. According to Hougan, when he told Gorey that he found the book, which deeply implicated Dean in the origins of Watergate, to be thoroughly researched and well documented, Gorey pulled the assignment. And in an interesting twist, it turns out that Maureen Dean, before meeting John during his White House residency, had been a Dallas-based flight attendant. She had been married to George Owen, who worked for Clint Murchison Jr.—a central figure in the oil depletion–George de Mohrenschildt circle. At minimum, it certainly is a small world.

Meanwhile, oblivious to the most basic questions about Woodward, everyone continued the parlor game of guessing the “true identity” of Deep Throat. Most folks missed the statement of Woodward and Bernstein’s former literary agent David Obst to the New York Times that Deep Throat, as such, was a fiction, concocted for purposes of making All the President’s Men a snappier read. “Mark Felt was an invaluable source . . . but he was not Deep Throat—there was no Deep Throat.” Even the book was the idea of Robert Redford, who had initially pitched a movie deal, and thought publishing a book first would make sense.

Questions about the whole Deep Throat exercise can be found buried in many articles on the subject. For example, in the above-mentioned Times article, titled “Mystery Solved: The Sleuths,” about the Mark Felt revelations, Anne E. Kornblut begins, “With the most tantalizing mystery in recent political history solved,” but seven paragraphs below she also notes, “Some cases of mistaken identity appear to be the result of false clues planted by Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein in their book, ‘All the President’s Men,’ as they tried to protect Mr. Felt.”

None less than Robert McCandless, Dean’s cocounsel and former brotherin-law, would tell an Oklahoma newspaper reporter in a little-noted interview in 1992, on the twentieth anniversary of Watergate, that he had been one of Woodward’s sources.

“I was at least one-third of Deep Throat,” Robert McCandless, a Hobart native, told The Daily Oklahoman’s Washington bureau in a copyright story in today’s editions . . . McCandless, 54, said he met with Woodward and Bernstein “at least four dozen times” at the George Washington University Faculty and Alumni Club . . . He said his worry then was that disclosure of his giving information about his client might lead to his disbarment.

There you have a man with apparent intelligence connections admitting to having fed a story to another man with apparent intelligence connections— yet almost no one knows this.

Indeed, the vast majority of Americans never learned either the key facts about Woodward or of these statements from insiders about the fictitious or composite nature of Deep Throat. Thus, when Vanity Fair was approached in 2005 with the claim that former FBI official W. Mark Felt Sr. was the real Deep Throat, it is understandable that the magazine thought it had the scoop of a lifetime. The Felt story generated tremendous publicity and is now the conventional wisdom. Given the above information that there was in fact no single source known as Deep Throat, one has to ask about the motives of those who came forward to offer up Felt, a man who had previously insisted he was not Deep Throat, and who by 2005 was seriously debilitated by old age and could not even speak for himself.

The backstory is that Woodward approached Felt in 1999, showing up at Felt’s California house and taking the eighty-six-year-old to a parking lot eight blocks away, where a chauffeured limousine was waiting. Some years later, with Felt incapacitated, a lawyer surfaced to write the Vanity Fair article. The lawyer, by the way, mentions in passing that his own father was an intelligence officer.

More recently, the book In Nixon’s Web, the posthumous memoir of former acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray III, completed by his journalist son, Ed Gray, used Woodward’s own archival papers to demonstrate irrefutably that Woodward used the term “Deep Throat” to refer to at least three of his secret sources. At a minimum, that means that Deep Throat was not, as Woodward has maintained, Mark Felt alone.

To be sure, the stakes must have always been high. Not just to get Nixon out, but also, decades later, to preserve the image of Nixon as a monster. In an interview with Gerald S. Strober and Deborah Hart Strober for their book, Nixon: An Oral Histor y of His Presidency, Dean says:

Someone once said to me, “What is Richard Nixon’s presidency without Watergate?” This same person—if someone had asked him the question—would have answered it by saying, “Nixon’s presidency without Watergate is Hitler’s Reich without the Holocaust. How do you separate them?”

As for Bob Woodward, he told the Strobers:

I disagree very strongly that [Nixon] has been rehabilitated. It’s like the three-headed monkey in the circus; he’s a bit of a freak. People are interested in him in the same way they are interested in Madonna, or other celebrities, because he does have stamina and endurance, and he has fought a rear-guard action against history to try to blot out what happened and encourage people to forget. It’s sad, but it’s also endearing, that somebody so old would keep trying to “out, damned spot!” The record is so voluminous on Watergate; there is nothing like it . . . It’s the most investigated event of all time, perhaps even more so than the Kennedy assassination.”

As for the universally reviled Haldeman, whose credibility rating has steadily climbed with corresponding revelations over the years, in 1992 he would insist that the conventional account of Watergate, that Nixon and his top aides had been trying to cover up their illegal activities, was way off base:

We never set out to plan a planned, conscious cover-up operation. We reacted to Watergate just as we had to other [news-making events]: the Pentagon papers, ITT and the Laos Cambodia operations. We were highly sensitive to any negative PR, and our natural reaction was to contain or minimize any potential political damage.

Haldeman and Ehrlichman would both claim that Nixon never explained his obsession with the Kennedy assassination and the Bay of Pigs. And Nixon wasn’t talking about it at all. He refused all interviews on the topic and took whatever he knew to his grave.

Nixon, of course, was no innocent. He played rough with his critics, and he liked intrigue. But the evidence indicates that, despite his documented penchant for dirty deeds, he wasn’t behind Watergate and the Watergaterelated dirty deeds that ultimately brought him down.

As the former GOP official Ed DeBolt told me: “I think that [Weicker] wanted to hear that Nixon was a bad guy . . . I always say to people, especially if they are liberals, do you like having the Clean Water Act? Do you like having the EPA? Do you like having the government clean up the air?

“He was not controllable,” DeBolt said of Nixon. “You wouldn’t want to depend on Nixon if you were doing all kinds of clandestine crazy stuff . . . He had his own mind, and he was insecure. You want someone who is good and stable and solid, and who is going to carry out your bidding and do your thing for you . . . He was just a very strong-willed person who had his back up . . . That is not the kind of person, I wouldn’t think, that the intelligence people would want to have to deal with.”

DeBolt, who left Washington some years ago, said it was only when he got away that he gained some perspective. “There’s nothing real, and there’s nothing pleasant about the way people live there . . . The administrator of the RNC? I heard that he was CIA, he was running the business part of the RNC.” (According to Senate testimony, that man was the person who initially hired former CIA man James McCord, who became a key player in the Watergate burglary.)

“When you get away from the city . . . you realize, wow, the tentacles of the CIA really, really are everywhere.”

In the end, Nixon acted toward Poppy as he always had—with a kind of restraint. Through all Nixon’s tribulations, through all his rants and firings, he had never said a single negative word in public or on tape about Poppy Bush. He had managed to avoid putting Poppy into certain powerful positions—always apologetic about it—but he had always found a consolation prize.

And in 1974, after fighting on and on and on, when Nixon finally agreed to go, it would be after Poppy gave the word. Poppy himself has acknowledged (in his quiet and “unboastful” way) that the day before Nixon resigned, he wrote him and suggested that it was time to go—a view that Poppy said was shared “by most Republican leaders across the country.”

When Bush tried to arrange a visit with Nixon the day after the gloomy cabinet meeting and personally convince him to resign, Nixon refused to see him. “The President,” Haig explained to an astonished and “somewhat offended” Poppy, “simply cannot bring himself to talk to people outside of a tiny, tiny circle and this has brought him to his knees.”

In the midst of this upheaval, Poppy could barely contain his excitement, writing in his diary as if he was in the final stages of his own covert operation. “Suspense mounting again. Deep down inside I think maybe it should work this time. I have that inner feeling that it will finally abort.” [emphasis added]

He also noted that Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, was considering him for vice president. “Another defeat in this line is going to be rough but then again, it is awful egotistical to think I should be selected.” [emphasis added]

 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Less than two weeks after Richard Nixon left Washington in disgrace, and Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office, Newsweek reported that the vice presidential prospects of George H. W. Bush—a “youthful, middleground . . . appealing” figure—had suddenly taken a nose dive.

The Bush item appeared within a larger article and few people noticed it. Unnamed White House sources cited questions over Bush’s apparent failure to report forty thousand of one hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions he had received from the secret Townhouse Operation.

Whether the real story was his failure to report the funds—or a more general pressing need to move Poppy far off-screen for a while—within a week Bush was “offered” a job by President Ford at the other end of the world.And not a bad job. Poppy was to be the United States’ envoy to the People’s Republic of China, a significant posting in the aftermath of Nixon’s diplomatic breakthrough with the Communist country.Once again, Bush seemed an improbable choice. The awkwardness was apparent when, shortly before he departed for Beijing in October 1974, Poppy was granted an audience with Ford. The meeting lasted under ten minutes and unfolded as follows:

FORD: You will be leaving soon.

BUSH: The day after tomorrow. Don’t ask me about China! …I know you’re busy. I just wanted to say goodbye.

FORD: We couldn’t have found anyone more qualified.

BUSH: If there is anything I can do to help you politically as ’76 approaches, just let me know. [emphasis added]

FORD: Thanks. I may try to visit you there by then.

BUSH: That would be great! Many thanks for the time.

Bush’s jocular admonition not to ask him about China brings to mind a similar, earlier incident, in which a friend had asked what could possibly qualify Poppy to be U.N. ambassador. At that time, Bush had replied, “Ask me in ten days.” This time around, Ford was clearly in on the joke.

But shipping Poppy seven thousand miles away made a different kind of sense. With this move, Ford had effectively put Bush outside both domestic politics and the reach of congressional investigators. So important did this piece of business seem to be that Ford took care of it even before he got around to his most famous act: pardoning Nixon.

The Nixon pardon could seem as strange in its own way as sending Bush to Beijing. Nixon had not even been charged with a crime, so he was in essence being given a “premature” pardon. Although this act insulated Nixon against later prosecution, it also branded him forever with the mark of Watergate and its felonious cover-up. As for Ford, while he cast himself as a healer whose only motive was to bring peace to a badly fractured country, the pardon infuriated anyone who wanted to see the full story brought out in open court; the backlash ended up damaging Ford’s political future. That he was willing to risk this outcome may say something about the pressures brought to bear to curtail further inquiry into the origins of Watergate. In effect, Ford was sealing away “Exhibit A” of the Watergate mess—before investigators could dig deeper and find out who really was behind it and why.

In explaining away Bush’s China appointment, the media reported that he was getting a consolation prize after losing out to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller as Ford’s vice presidential pick. According to that version, Poppy had his choice of London or Paris, and he surprised Ford by countering with a third option: Beijing.

An admission by Bush’s close friend Robert Mosbacher probably came closer to the truth—namely, that Bush “wanted to get as far away from the stench [of Watergate] as possible.” Of course, historians generally attributed that to Bush’s desire to keep his own seemingly clear political future unsullied rather than any sort of admission.

Certainly, Poppy urgently needed to get away from the scene of the crime. Throughout his life thus far, and on into the future, Poppy would evince a real talent for edging to the periphery of the crowd, watching like any other bystander while subtly guiding the main action—before slipping away entirely to deny that he had been there at all. In the case of Watergate, his getaway path was clear. A brief exile to China would keep him out of the line of fire, cleanse him of the stench, and burnish his credentials too.

More important, the London and Paris postings would have required Senate confirmation, which could have opened up the very questions he wanted to escape. But the United States did not have full diplomatic relations with Beijing, so that post required no confirmation process (as Bush himself noted in his memoirs).

As for his lack of experience and knowledge, that hardly mattered, as things turned out. The job was largely pro forma, because, as Ford noted to Bush, Henry Kissinger was determined to handle the sensitive Sino-American relationship himself. Poppy Bush’s published recollections of his time in China are dominated by leisurely bike rides and barbecues.

The Beijing posting was a fortuitous breather for Poppy, but soon he was ready for the main act. He was finally ready to come in from the cold.

##

This ends our three-installment excerpt. For more, please see Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years.

 

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  • A. Benway

    The “Dear Don” memo in part two, which addresses Donald Kendall, is not simply odd and suggestive of cryptic communications, it also shows a lack of literacy – particularly in the ungrammatical construction and the problematic mixing of tenses.The note, evidently, did not pass through the hands of a secretary. This quality adds to the suggestion that it’s of a cryptic and private nature.

    Nixon, it seems, would rather expose his poor writing to a powerful man than expose it, as he must have many times done, to a secretary.

    Exposing one’s limitations and personal qualities in the arena of the powerful comes at a cost, a risk. Why, some might ask, was Nixon willing to pay such a presumed price?

    The answer, generally, is obvious.

    This is perhaps a nit-picking observation – but following up on what seem to be minor matters can be instructive.

    And thanks, Russ, for the posting of these three parts!

    • Russ Baker

       A., that’s an astute observation. Not unlike George H.W. Bush’s self-typed note to CIA subordinates on how he happens to know Lee Harvey Oswald’s good friend de Mohrenschildt. (Family of Secrets, Chapter 3). Full of mistakes and poor writing.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/ralphcrown77 Ralph Crown

    Fascinating. I’ve always had suspicions that there was more to Watergate than the “official version.” Obviously the whole drunk-frat-boy-professional-screwup thing was an act, for Bush 41 as well as Bush 43 (although it pains me to give up that impression).

    There are two things that aren’t clear to me. One, was it really so important to the Texas cabal for Nixon to go? Yes, there was big money in the depletion allowance, but that was mainly a congressional matter. Two, where is the connection between the Texas cabal and the CIA, that is, why would the CIA do what (for instance) Mohrenschildt wanted?

    Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 30 years for a book like this one about 9/11.

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