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Former White House counsel John Dean, who served prison time for his complicity in the Watergate conspiracy (see September 3, 1974), receives an early morning phone call from CBS reporter Mike Wallace. Dean has tried to keep a low public profile for over a decade, focusing on his career in mergers and acquisitions and staying out of politics. Wallace wants Dean’s reaction to a not-yet-published book by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, Silent Coup, which advances a very different theory about the Watergate affair than is generally accepted. According to Dean’s own writing and a Columbia Journalism Review article about the book, the book’s allegations are as follows:
Richard Nixon was guilty of nothing except being a dupe. Instead, Dean is the mastermind behind the Watergate conspiracy. Dean became involved both to find embarrassing sexual information on the Democrats and to protect his girlfriend, Maureen “Mo” Biner (later his wife), who is supposedly listed in a notebook linked to a prostitution ring operating out of the Watergate Hotel. This alleged prostitution ring was, the authors assert, patronized or even operated by officials of the Democratic Party. Dean never told Nixon about the prostitution ring, instead concocting an elaborate skein of lies to fool the president. According to the authors, Dean’s wife Maureen knew all about the call girl ring through her then-roommate, Heidi Rikan, whom the authors claim was actually a “madame” named Cathy Dieter. The address book belonged to a lawyer involved in the prostitution ring, Philip Macklin Bailey.
According to the book, the other schemer involved in Watergate was Nixon’s chief of staff Alexander Haig. Haig wanted to conceal his role as part of a military network spying on Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger (see December 1971). Haig orchestrated the titular “silent coup” to engineer Nixon’s removal from office.
Haig was the notorious “Deep Throat,” the inside source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see May 31, 2005). Far from being a crusading young reporter, Woodward is, the book alleges, a “sleazy journalist” trying to cover up his background in military intelligence. Woodward had a strong, if covert, working relationship with Haig. (Weinberg 11/1991; Dean 2006, pp. xv-xvii)
During the phone call, Wallace tells Dean, “According to Silent Coup, you, sir, 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.” Wallace says that the book alleges that Dean had a secretive relationship with E. Howard Hunt, one of the planners of the Watergate burglary. Dean replies that he had little contact with Hunt during their White House careers, and calls the entire set of allegations “pure bullsh_t.” He continues: “Mike, I’m astounded. This sounds like a sick joke.” Wallace says that the authors and publisher, St. Martin’s Press, claim Dean was interviewed for the book, but Dean says no one has approached him about anything related to this book until this phone call. Dean says he is willing to refute the book’s claims on Wallace’s 60 Minutes, but wants to read it first. CBS cannot give Dean a copy of the book due to a confidentiality agreement. (Dean 2006, pp. xv-xvii) Dean will succeed in convincing Time’s publishers not to risk a lawsuit by excerpting the book (see May 7, 1991), and will learn that the book was co-authored behind the scenes by Watergate burglar and conservative gadfly G. Gordon Liddy (see May 9, 1991 and After). The book will be published weeks later, where it will briefly make the New York Times bestseller list (see May 1991) and garner largely negative reviews (see June 1991).
Silent Coup authors Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin (see May 6, 1991 and May 6, 1991) appear on CNN’s Larry King Live. Defending themselves from charges by former White House counsel John Dean that they have libeled him and his wife Maureen (see May 7, 1991), the authors deny any allegations against Maureen Dean even though their book claims that she is the key to understanding the entire Watergate conspiracy. Halfway through the show, Dean will write, the authors “disappear… without explanation, as if snatched from their seats by hooks.” They are replaced by Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz and convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy falsely claims that John Dean and others named in the book, particularly Post reporter Bob Woodward and former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig, refused to appear on 60 Minutes to refute the charges by Colodny and Gettlin. Liddy also lies about Time magazine’s decision not to excerpt the book, saying that the book is “so densely packed that it did not lend itself to being excerpted, and they felt that they couldn’t do it.” In reality, Dean, Woodward, and Haig had all agreed to appear on 60 Minutes to refute the book; CBS pulled the segment because the authors could not prove any of their sensational claims about prostitution rings and CIA manipulations. Time chose not to print the excerpt after Dean alerted them that he was filing lawsuits against the authors and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press. 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace, who would have anchored the segment, calls King to refute Liddy’s misrepresentations. Wallace says: “We objected to the fact that the authors refused or declined to let the objects of their scrutiny, these three in particular, see the book, read the book ahead of time, so that they could face the charges.… 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.” Watching the interview, Maureen Dean applauds as Wallace destroys the book’s credibility on the air. (Dean 2006, pp. xx-xxi)
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