A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by John Dean
An excerpt of the introduction to "Conservatives Without Conscience." Get your copy of "Conservatives Without Conscience" from BuzzFlash.
Contemporary conservatives have become extremely contentious, confrontational, and aggressive in nearly every area of politics and governing. Today they have a tough-guy (and, in a few instances, a tough-gal) attitude, an arrogant and antagonistic style, along with a narrow outlook intolerant of those who challenge their extreme thinking. Incivility is now their norm. "During the Father Bush period, there was a presumption of civility," Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute observes, but "we lost it under Clinton," when conservatives relentlessly attacked his presidency, and "then the present President Bush deliberately chose a strategy of being a divider, rather than a uniter."1
Even more troubling, the right-wing presidency of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney has taken positions that are in open defiance of international treaties or blatant violations of domestic laws, while pushing the limits of presidential power beyond the parameters of the Constitution. It is aided and abetted in these actions by a conservative Republican Congress that refuses to check or balance the president. These patterns were apparent long before the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, but the right wing's bellicose response to the events of that day has escalated into a false claim of legitimacy. Many authors (and journalists) have described the extreme hubris now present in Washington, along with the striking abuses of power. While some of this activity has ostensibly been undertaken in the name of fighting terrorists, much of it is just good old-fashioned power corruption.
Conservatives Without Conscience, however, is not a book about Bush and Cheney. My venture here is not to expose more malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in places high or low in Washington, nor even to try to catalog it, for the gist of what is occurring under con-servative Republican rule is all too obvious. Although this is a report that cannot be given without frequent references to the administration's disquieting politics and governing, my effort, fundamentally, is to understand them, to explain why they are happening, while placing them all in a larger context, including the particular events that initially prompted my inquiry about people with whom I once thought I shared beliefs.
Frankly, when I started writing this book I had a difficult time accounting for what had become of conservatism or, for that matter, the Republican Party. I went down a number of dead-end streets looking for answers, before finally discovering a true explanation. My finding, simply stated, is the growing presence of conservative authoritarianism. Conservatism has noticeably evolved from its so-called modern phase (1950-94) into what might be called a postmodern period (1994 to the present), and in doing so it has regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots. Authoritarianism is not well understood and seldom discussed in the context of American government and politics, yet it now constitutes the prevailing thinking and behavior among conservatives. Regrettably, empirical studies reveal, however, that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral. They are also often conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.
Although I have only recently learned the correct term for describing this type of behavior, and come to understand the implications of such authoritarian thinking, I was familiar with the personality type from my years in the Nixon White House. We had plenty of authoritarians in the Nixon administration, from the president on down. In fact, authoritarian thinking was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency. I had had little contact with my former colleagues, or with their new authoritarian friends and associates, until the early 1990s, when they decided to attack my wife and me in an effort to rewrite history at our expense. By then I had left public life for a very comfortable and private existence in the world of business, but they forced me back into the public square to defend myself and my wife from their false charges. In returning, I discovered how contemptible and dangerous their brand of "conservatism" had become, and how low they were prepared to stoop for their cause.
About 7:00 a.m. on Monday, May 6, 1991, I received a phone call that was both literally and figuratively a wake-up call, one that would dramatically change the political world as I thought I knew it. My last politics-related activity had been in 1982, when I wrote Lost Honor, a book about the consequences of Watergate during the decade that followed it. Since then I had focused exclusively on my work in merger and acquisition ventures, and I no longer had any interest in partisan politics. In fact, I had done everything I could to lower my public profile and regain my privacy by refusing to give press interviews. I became a true nonpartisan, sometimes voting for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats, always determined to select the best candidates for the job. I paid little attention to Washington affairs other than major events. I did maintain my relationships with old friends in Washington, including some still active at the highest levels of government and several who worked for Reagan and Bush I, but we seldom discussed politics too seriously. I discovered that I enjoyed life more outside of the political arena, and so I had no interest in returning to it.
When the phone rang that Monday morning, I assumed it was my wife, Maureen-"Mo" to family and friends-calling from Pennsylvania, where she had gone to care for my mother, who had recently suffered a stroke. I was instead greeted by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, and his producer Brian Ellis. Wallace quickly got to the reason for their call. "Have you heard about this new book about Bob Woodward?" he inquired referring to the Washington Post's star reporter and best-selling author. "I'm talking about a book called Silent Coup: The Removal of a President, by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin."* Wallace explained that 60 Minutes was working on a story about Silent Coup, which St. Martin's Press was going to publish in two weeks, and Time magazine was going to run an excerpt from the book. Wallace said the book dealt not only with Woodward but also "with you, sir, John Dean."
"How so?" I asked. I knew about the book because Colodny had called me several years earlier looking for dirt on Woodward, and I had told him I had none. Later he called back to ask me some questions about my testimony before the Senate Watergate committee. But Colodny had said little about how I related to his book. I had assumed his project had died.
"Do you know a woman by the name of Heidi Rikan?" Wallace asked.
"Sure, Heidi was a friend of Mo's. She died a few years ago. What does Heidi have to do with Silent Coup? " Heidi and Mo had been friends before we were married and was a bridesmaid at our wedding. Wallace ignored my question.
Employing his trademark confrontational tone, Wallace began throwing hard balls. "According to Silent Coup, Heidi was also known as Cathy Dieter, and this Heidi/Cathy person, as they call her in the book, had a connection to a call-girl ring back in 1971 and '72. In fact, I gather she was the madam of the operation. According to Silent Coup, this call-girl ring had a connection with the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate. Apparently the DNC was providing customers for the call girls. The book says that your wife was the roommate of Cathy Dieter, and she seemingly knew all about this activity. In fact, according to Silent Coup, this call-girl operation was the reason for the break-ins at the Watergate."
I was, understandably, stunned. I had never heard or seen anything that would even hint at Heidi's being a call girl, and I could not imagine Mo's not telling me if she knew, or had any such suspicion. And I knew for certain that neither Heidi nor Mo had anything whatsoever to do with Watergate. My thoughts raced as Wallace continued with his questioning.
"Did you know an attorney in Washington by the name of Phillip Mackin Bailley?" he asked.
When I answered that I did not, he pressed. "Do you remember an incident while you were working at the White House, as counsel to the president, when an assistant United States attorney came to your office, a fellow named John Rudy, to discuss Phillip Bailley's involvement in prostitution, and you made a copy of Mr. Bailley's address book, which had been seized by the FBI?"
"I recall a couple of assistant United States attorneys coming to my office in connection with a newspaper story claiming that a lawyer, or a secretary, from the White House was allegedly connected with a call-girl ring. As I recall, we had trouble figuring out who, if anyone, at the White House was involved. But I never made a copy of an address book." My mind was searching, trying to recall events that had taken place almost two decades earlier.
Wallace now dropped another bomb. He told me that according to Silent Coup Mo's name was in Phillip Bailley's little black address book. He also said that Bailley had been indicted for violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking women across state lines for immoral pur-poses, specifically prostitution. Silent Coup claimed that my wife was listed in the address book as "Mo Biner," along with a code name of "Clout." Supposedly, Bailley's address book also contained the name of Cathy Dieter. Before I could digest this information, Wallace added more.
"According to Silent Coup, sir, you, John Dean, are the real mastermind of the Watergate break-ins, and you ordered these break-ins because you were apparently seeking sexual dirt on the Democrats, which you learned about from your then girlfriend, now wife, Maureen." When I failed to respond, because I was dumbfounded, Wallace asked, "Does this make sense to you?"
"No, no sense at all. It's pure bullshit. How could I have ordered the Watergate break-ins and kept it secret for the last twenty years?"
"Fair question," Wallace responded. He explained that the book claimed I arranged the break-ins through my secret relationship with former White House consultant E. Howard Hunt-Hunt, who along with Gordon Liddy, had been convicted two decades earlier of plotting the Watergate break-ins.
"I recall meeting Hunt once in Chuck Colson's office. Hunt worked for Colson. I don't think I ever said anything more than ‘hello' to Howard Hunt in all my years at the White House. The only other time I have spoken to him was long after Watergate, when we gave a few college lectures together. Anyone who says I directed Hunt to do anything is crazy." Still trying to sort out the various claims of Silent Coup, I asked, "Did you say this book has me ordering the break-ins because of a call-girl ring?"
Wallace said the manuscript was not clear about the first break-in. Indeed, he said it was all a bit unclear, but apparently they were saying that the second break-in was related to Bailley's address book and a desk in the DNC. "Are you saying that none of this makes any sense to you?" Wallace asked again.
"Mike, I'm astounded. This sounds like a sick joke."
"The authors and the publisher claim you were interviewed," Wallace said.
"Not about this stuff. I was never asked anything about Mo, or Heidi Rikan, nor was there any mention of call girls. I assure you I would remember."
Wallace wanted me to go on camera to deny the charges. I said I was willing, but I wanted to see the book so I could understand the basis of the charges. But 60 Minutes had signed a confidentiality agreement with the publisher, and was prohibited from providing any further information. When the conversation with Wallace ended I called Hays Gorey, a senior correspondent for Time magazine, who had not only covered Watergate, but, working with Mo, had co-authored Mo: A Woman's View of Watergate. Hays had known Heidi as well. He was aghast, and could not believe that Time was going to run such a flagrantly phony story without checking with the reporter who had covered Watergate for them. After a quick call to New York, he confirmed that the New York office had purchased the first serial rights to Silent Coup, and they were preparing both an excerpt and a news story.
Mo found the story laughable, and could not believe anyone would publish it. She had no information that Heidi had ever been involved with a call-girl ring, and did not believe it possible, because Heidi traveled constantly and was seldom in Washington. Mo had never heard of an attorney by the name of Phillip Mackin Bailley, and if her name was in his address book, it was not because she knew him.
By the time Mo returned home 60 Minutes had backed away from the book, because neither the authors nor the publisher could pro-vide information that confirmed the central charges. Phillip Mackin Bailley, the source of much of the information, was "not available." Notwithstanding 60 Minutes's rejection of the book, Time's editors were still proceeding. They asked Hays to interview us for our reaction, even though he had told them the story was untrue. Hays had called a number of men he knew who had worked at the DNC at the time the call-girl operation was said to be flourishing in 1971 and 1972. They all told him it was impossible that such activity could have existed without their knowing of it. One former DNC official told Hays that had there been such an operation he would have been a top customer. Traveling from Washington to California to interview us, Hays read the material in Silent Coup relating to the Deans, and could not understand why Time was treating it as a news story. Nor could I when he loaned me his copy of the book so I could see what was being said. The material in the book relating to the Deans ran about 180 pages, and as I skimmed these pages I could not find one that was not filled with false or misleading information. All the hard evidence (the information developed by government investigators and prosecutors) that conflicted with this invented story was simply omitted. I could find no real documentation for their charges. I did not understand how the authors and St. Martin's thought they could get away with their outrageous story without facing a lawsuit from us. Hays wondered the same.
We gave Hays a statement the next morning that made clear we were preparing for legal action. Hays gave us his telephone number in Salt Lake City, where he planned to stop to visit with family en route back to Washington. Several hours later we called him, because I had had another idea, and I asked if he thought it would be worth my effort to go directly to Henry Muller, Time's managing editor, to ask him to reconsider. Hays could not offer any encouragement. It was Friday evening in New York, and this issue of the magazine was heading for the printer. In addition, he confided that Time had paid fifty thousand dollars for the serial rights. But he gave me Muller's office number, and told me, "Only someone like Muller could pull a story at this late stage." I called Muller's office, and arranged to fax a letter. Rather than threatening legal action, I tried to appeal to Muller's journalistic good sense. They were reporting a story that 60 Minutes had investigated and rejected, and their principal Watergate reporter, Hays Gorey, had told them the story was baseless. Surprisingly, the effort worked. Within less than an hour of sending the letter, Hays called back. "You did it, Muller pulled the story. The whole thing. We're not going to even mention Silent Coup. I have only seen that happen once before in my thirty years with Time." Hays was ebullient, clearly proud that Time had done the right thing.
I decided to try again to persuade Tom McCormack, chairman and CEO of St. Martin's Press, to reconsider the publication of Silent Coup. McCormack had refused to talk with me earlier, so I faxed him a letter to let him know he was walking into a lawsuit. A day later we received McCormack's answer, when CBS's Good Morning America (GMA) called on Saturday morning to tell us that Colodny and Gettlin would be appearing Monday morning, May 21, 1991, to promote their newly published book and GMA wanted to give us a chance to respond. We faxed them the statement we had given Time. Clearly, a book tour was underway, but by pushing 60 Minutes and then Time, we had mortally wounded the book and destroyed the carefully planned launch, which might have given the story credibility. Now it would be difficult to treat Silent Coup as legitimate news.
Watching the authors on Good Morning America, we felt encouraged. Colodny, the older of the two, who looked to be in his early fifties, was a retired liquor salesman and conspiracy buff. Gettlin, who appeared to be in his forties, was a journalist. This was their first book. Both were tense. GMA's host, Charlie Gibson, an experienced journalist, was not buying the Silent Coup story relating to the Deans, so his questions focused on the material in the book related to Bob Woodward and Al Haig, which was as unfounded as the material relating to us. (Woodward was accused of CIA connections; Haig had allegedly plotted the "coup" of the title that had removed Nixon from office.) With St. Martin's publicity department pumping out information about their sensational new book, requests for responses and appearances became so frequent we had to put a message on the answering machine to handle the requests. Not wanting to do anything to attract additional publicity to the book, however, we declined all appearances and issued a statement explaining that the charges were false.
We watched the authors again on CNN's Larry King Live. Bob Beckel was the substitute host in Larry King's absence. Colodny claimed that he and Gettlin were "not making any charges against Maureen Dean." Yet I had made a note during my quick read of the book that they claimed that Mo's alleged "acquaintanceship with [Phillip Mackin] Bailley, and the true identity of her friend Heidi [Rikan]...[were] the keys to understanding all the events of the break-ins and cover-ups that we know under the omnibus label of Watergate." That was some "no charge." After a commercial break, well into the program, both Colodny and Gettlin simply disappeared without explanation, as if snatched from their seats by hooks. In their places were Howard Kurtz, a media reporter for the Washington Post, and Gordon Liddy, Watergate's most decorated felon. Beckel asked Liddy for his "theory" of why 60 Minutes and Time had "pulled" their stories on Silent Coup. Liddy said, "Well, I don't have to go for a theory with respect to those two things, because they are on the record." Liddy claimed none of the people charged by the book would appear on 60 Minutes. "They wanted to get John Dean, etcetera," Liddy claimed. "They wouldn't come on the program and face these two men. Time magazine just said, you know, the thing is so densely packed that it did not lend itself to being excerpted and they felt that they couldn't do it."
Liddy's remarks were untrue, for I had agreed to do 60 Minutes (as had Woodward and Haig) and I had a copy of the Time excerpt, not to mention my letter, which had killed it. Mike Wallace, who had obviously been watching the show, called in to correct Liddy's false characterizations. Wallace reported that he had read Silent Coup, and had interviewed Colodny and Gettlin. "And we intended to go, just as Time magazine intended to go. We checked, Gordon. I did talk to John Dean," he said. "We objected to the fact that the authors refused or declined to let the objects of their scrutiny, these three [Woodward, Haig, and Dean] in particular, see the book, read the book ahead of time, so that they could face the charges." As to the charge that I was the "mastermind" of Watergate, Wallace explained, "We could not, on our own, source the thing sufficiently to satisfy ourselves that it stood up as a 60 Minutes piece. That's why we didn't do the piece." Mo applauded when one of America's best-known journalists knocked down the book's central charge.
As a hard news story Silent Coup was now for certain dead and would undoubtedly have been headed for the remainder table, but St. Martin's had a lot of money tied up in it, and was determined to make it a best seller. Their plan was to sell the book to Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon's downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and John Dean were the villains, and randy Democrats had all but invited surveillance. Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy? Although we did not know it at the time, Liddy had been a behind-the-scenes collaborator with Colodny in developing, sourcing, and writing Silent Coup's version of the Deans' involvement in Watergate. In fact, without Liddy's sup-port St. Martin's might well have abandoned the project, for neither Colodny nor Gettlin had actually written it. St. Martin's had hired a freelancer, Tom Shachtman, to assemble a story based on material that Liddy and other right-wingers had helped Colodny assemble. Schactman himself was contractually immunized from any legal liability, and shortly before Silent Coup's publication, St. Martin's had doubled its insurance coverage for defamation and worked out a plan for Liddy, who was already a St. Martin's author, to lead a charge to the best-seller list. To compensate Liddy for his efforts, and to give him an excuse to be out promoting, St. Martin's reissued a paperback edition of his autobiography, Will, with a new postscript that embraced Silent Coup as the definitive account on Watergate. In that material Liddy claimed, without any explanation, that I had duped him in "an exercise in sleight-of-hand worthy of The Amazing Randi himself," and that he had not truly understood Watergate until Colodny explained to him what had purportedly transpired, by telling him of Phillip Bailley's story. According to this revised accounting of history, Liddy's former partner-in-crime Howard Hunt was merely my pawn, working secretly for me unbeknownst to Liddy. (And unbeknownst to Howard Hunt as well, for he, too, denied the Silent Coup account.)
Liddy's involvement in this specious attack did not surprise me. He had once planned to kill both Howard Hunt and me , he had said in Will, but his orders to do so had never come-although he did not say who he expected would send them. "Howard Hunt had become an informer," he wrote, and when Hunt agreed to testify he became "a betrayer of his friends, and to me there is nothing lower on earth....Hunt deserved to die." About me, Liddy wrote that the "difference between Hunt and Dean is the difference between a POW who breaks under torture and aids the enemy, and Judas Iscariot."2 The subtext of Liddy's statement is that the U.S. government had become his enemy and that Richard Nixon had become something of a Christ figure for him. Attacking Howard Hunt and me was consistent with both his conservative politics and his personality. He sought to resurrect Nixon for conservatives and blame others for his destroyed presidency. His attacks on Mo, however, were inexplicable. It did not strike me as consistent with his macho perception of himself to attack a noncombatant woman, yet he traveled the country repeating the false story that Phillip Bailley had told him. Clearly, Silent Coup had come at a perfect time for Liddy. Since the first publication of Will in 1980 he had made a living by putting his dysfunctional personality on display. By the early nineties speaking engagements were becoming less frequent for him, and his business ventures, including several novels, were unsuccessful. Silent Coup put him back in the spotlight, where he loved to be-publicly misbehaving.
End of Part 1. Click here for Part 2.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
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