Forty Years On, and Watergate Still Doesn’t Make Sense.
August 22, 2012 4 Comments
Public Perception vs. The Truth
In all seriousness, what is the root of the American fixation on Watergate and Richard Nixon? The fortieth anniversary of the break-ins this year has led to mass media commemoration and yet more pats on the pack for the folks at the Washington Post.
Its not as if there haven’t been worse political scandals before or since: Chappaquiddick, JFK’s disgusting sex and drug habits, Iran-Contra and Bill Clinton’s entire political career come to mind. What we have been through in the last ten years alone is enough to sicken even the most seasoned of political observers. Compared to the American government’s lies about Pat Tillman, and Obama’s arming of violent Mexican gangs that went on to murder Americans under Fast and Furious, Watergate seems almost like a jolly college prank.
Ben Bradlee happens to agree. As the former executive editor at the Washington Post said to his friend Jeff Himmelman in Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee:
“Watergate … achieved a place in history … that it really doesn’t deserve. … The crime itself was really not a great deal. Had it not been for the Nixon resignation, it really would have been a blip in history.”
Not only that, Bradlee went on to express his doubts about much of Woodward and Bernstein’s account of the story:
“Did that potted palm thing ever happen? … And meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage. Fifty meetings in the garage … there’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight… I just find the flower in the window difficult to believe and the garage scenes…
If they could prove that Deep Throat never existed … that would be a devastating blow to Woodward and to the Post. … It would be devastating, devastating.”
Witnesses say that Bob Woodward became highly stressed when he heard what Bradley told Himmelman, and repeated the statement about “a residual fear… that that isn’t quite straight” countless times to himself. Woodward tried to get Bradlee to withdraw his statements. He even threatened legal action to prevent Himmelman from publishing them. It didn’t work. Far more people really should have heard the words of Bradlee.
There may indeed have been a Deep Throat in the form of Mark Felt. But we now know – thanks to Max Holland’s great work in Leak: How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat – that the man was no hero. Felt was not motivated by his conscience or a sense of justice. He simply wanted to get back at Nixon for not appointing him as J. Edgar Hoover’s successor. He also wanted to bring down the outsider and squeaky-clean L. Patrick Gray to protect the FBI’s ‘turf’.
It seems to me that the obsessive focus on the identity of Deep Throat distracted the public from the more important questions raised during Watergate. For the Washington Post and the Pulitzer Committee, there is the important matter of the unethical and flagrantly illegal methods used by Woodward and Bernstein in the course of their work. This was discovered years before Felt revealed himself.
However, the most important mystery concerns the real story behind the break-ins at the offices of the DNC – something still largely unknown by the American public.
The Break-Ins: What Really Happened
The clue to solving this mystery begins with a woman known as Maureen Elizabeth Kane Owen “Mo” Biner. “Mo” was the wife of the far more famous John Dean: one of those responsible for the espionage at the Democratic National Committee and mastermind of the subsequent cover-up. As the man who pleaded guilty to a single felony count in exchange for becoming a key witness for the prosecution, history has judged Dean favourably. This might not be justified, but we’ll get to that. Maureen was the author of Mo: A Woman’s View of Watergate. Its a real turd of a book, devoted mostly to her love for John and what the people at the centre of the Watergate scandal were wearing. For the discerning reader, there is one part of interest: a wedding photograph with a woman called “my very dear friend Heidi”. We don’t read much at all about this dear friend elsewhere in the book. That is because “Heidi” was in fact Erika “Heidi” Rikan, a.k.a. Cathy Dieter: a notorious DC stripper at Washington’s Blue Mirror Club, a madam, and mistress of the mafia boss Joe Nesline.
Rikan and Maureen Biner were roommates and long-time friends. In all likelihood, Biner was once a prostitute. Before dating John Dean, she was the girlfriend of the notorious deviant and sexual blackmailer Bobby Baker. He once tried to compromise John F. Kennedy by setting him up with the East German spy Ellen Rometsch.
The truth is that the break-ins at Watergate were entirely the result of a sex scandal involving a DC call-girl ring. Larry O’ Brien’s office was not even the main target.
In 1971, a call-girl operation was set up in the DNC’s Watergate offices and nearby Columbia Plaza by Phillip Mackin Bailey. Bailey was a Washington attorney known for representing prostitutes. With his amassed contacts, somewhere along the line he began pimping. Its a good business in Washington. Bailey set up the DNC operation at the request of Biner’s dear friend “Heidi” Rikan. Her lover, Nesline, was also linked to a sexual blackmail operation run out of the Georgetown Club involving the Korean intelligence agent Tongsun Park and the CIA agent Ed Wilson. Both appeared in Rikan’s address book.
Bailey arranged for a secure telephone line between the Watergate offices and Rikan’s operation, where the clientele could hear a description of all the girls available. For this they used the office phone of the frequently-absent Democratic Party employee R. Spencer Oliver. It was in the desk of his secretary, Ida Maxine Wells. A key to this desk was found in the possession of the Watergate burglar Eugenio Martinez when he was arrested on June 17th, 1972, only to be kept in the National Archives until this very day.
Bailey was arrested on account of his sleazy activities only days after the initial Watergate burglary. One of the Assistant US Attorneys who investigated Bailey’s ring, John Rudy, later testified in a different case that he had evidence tying R. Spencer Oliver to Bailey’s call-girl ring. He claims he was told by his superiors to suppress it because it was politically explosive.
Rudy also uncovered an address book listing all of Bailey and Rikan’s girls and clientele. It included the name and contact details of a woman they dubbed “Clout”. This was a name used for Rikan’s dear friend Maureen Biner. Biner was by this time dating John Dean. Hence, she was political “clout”.
The first Watergate break-in was actually masterminded by the chief executive of the infamous White House Plumbers, G. Gordon Liddy, as well as John Dean, simply to get sexual dirt on the Democrats. Such operations had been planned and done before. In October 1971, John Dean ordered a White House security advisor, John Caulfield, to investigate a recently-busted call-girl ring in New York to see if any Democratic politicians happened to be clients. In January of the next year, Liddy proposed something called ‘Operation Gemstone’. ‘Gemstone’ aimed to spy on the Washington headquarters of Ed Muskie and George McGovern, as well as the site of the Democratic National Convention – the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. The Fontainebleau was also connected Meyer Lansky and the Syndicate, and prostitutes were expected to be at the convention. Operation Gemstone proposed recruiting prostitutes to help videotape convention attendees in compromising positions.
Nixon certainly did not order the break-in. The legendary lawyer James F. Neal, prosecutor of the Watergate Seven, did not believe this was the case. He cited Nixon’s surprised reaction to news of the burglary on June 23, 1972 when he asked his aide, Harry Haldeman: “who was the asshole that did it?”
Dean very quickly married Biner, asking Haldeman for some very brief time off to do so. A wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband, after all.
The second break-in was planned by John Dean, who needed to find out if a picture and contact information of “Mo” (his own nickname for her) was in the desk if Ida Maxine Wells.
Wiretaps transcripts exist of the conversations that took place over the phone in Oliver’s office, but they have been sealed by a federal judge. Philip Mackin Bailey spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions.
While the full truth will likely remain buried for a long time, its quite clear from available evidence that the typical picture the public has of Watergate is severely distorted.
They Were No Heroes
Not only does the John Dean get off easy and appear regularly on news shows, Woodward and Bernstein are still considered the princes of American journalism. This is despite the fact we now know from Jeff Himmelman that Carl Bernstein interviewed a Watergate grand juror. The intrepid duo showed contempt for one of the most sacred institutions of the justice system and lied about it for 40 years. And The Post knew about the whole thing.
Himmelman discovered this second gem from his work on Yours in Truth. He found seven pages of interview notes with what was clearly a Watergate grand juror in the Washington Post’s records. This is the source that Bernstein falsely described as a secretary for the Committee to Re-elect the President in ‘All the President’s Men’, whom he called ‘Z’.
What’s more shocking is that Bob and Carl had the audacity to attempt contacting several other Watergate grand jurors, the names of which Woodward had illegally obtained from the District Court clerk’s office. One juror complained to the prosecuting attorney, Earl Silbert in December of 1972. Silbert’s team informed Judge John Sirica. Sirica called Woodward and Bernstein into court two weeks later and warned against any further meddling. Edward Bennett Williams, chief legal counsel to the Washington Post, was dispatched to a private meeting with the judge. Sirica wanted the journalists to be jailed. Assured that their attempts to breach the secrecy of the grand jury were unsuccessful, he merely issued a warning to all reporters to avoid any grand juror contact.
Forty years on, the traditional account of Watergate given by John Dean and the Washington Post is becoming hard to defend indeed.