John Dean: The Story Behind the Bogus History of Watergate Presented in Silent Coup
... 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....
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....
By the fall of 1998 we had also accomplished our underlying goal of gathering the information necessary to show that Silent Coup was bogus history. Ultimately, it seems, they had hoped to win the lawsuit by simply outspending us, but when that strategy failed, they sought a settlement. Neither Colodny nor Liddy wanted to settle, however. Colodny had somehow used a rider on his homeowner's policy to get the insurance company to pay for his defense in the litigation, though ultimately his insurer forced him to settle. Liddy, on the other hand, had nothing at risk, since all of his assets were in his wife's name and St. Martin's was paying for his attorney. After we settled with St. Martin's and Colodny, US District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan put an end to the litigation. While the final settlement agreement prohibits me from discussing its terms, I can say the Deans were satisfied.
comments powered by Disqus
- The Council on Foreign Relations Honors Kissinger Critic
- Architectural historian discovers Chartres Cathedral has started faking it
- Rick Perlstein hits back at a critic of his book on Reagan
- So Historians Are Surprised by What DNA Can Tell Us?
- AHA won't be considering petition to boycott Israel, unless it's introduced at the Business Meeting