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Mitchell will apparently deny, as he has all along, that he ever approved the political espionage plans.
The White House strategy showed in a harsh assault contained in a memo from one of Dean's White House successors, Special Presidential Counsel Fred J. Buzhardt, and a list of 39 White House-inspired questions. Read by Senator Daniel Inouye, they failed to rattle the accuser. Contradicting point after point in quick response. Dean easily handled the attack.
Indeed, the effort backfired, which is perhaps why the White House quickly disavowed it and said that it was merely Lawyer Buzhardt's friendly personal contribution to the proceedings.
It failed by straining credulity in portraying the slender, subservient Dean, a born follower, as the "mastermind" in the Watergate coverup, with former Attorney General John Mitchell as "his patron." It contended, in effect, that this cunning pair participated in planning the political espionage at Democratic National Headquarters and then, to conceal that fact, they hindered the investigation by the FBI, compromised the CIA, ordered evidence shredded, and arranged for payoffs and offers of Executive clemency to the arrested burglars to ensure their silence. Creating a constitutional crisis almost alone, the Buzhardt statement in effect charged, Dean and Mitchell kept the truth of all that concealed for some nine months from such shrewd White House officials as H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles W. Colson—and the President.
While White House records and future witnesses before Senator Sam Ervin's Watergate committee may yet impugn Dean's story in a convincing way, it emerged from last week's test by fire as more credible than either Buzhardt's conspiracy theory or the President's less accusatory brief of last May 22. Instead of depicting a duped President and innocent top-level aides. Dean's damning version held that the lawless efforts to conceal the political implications of Watergate were an automatic and widespread White House response intended to protect the President's re-election prospects—and Nixon as a self-interested participant. Dean admitted his own role, but said that, rather than being what Buzhardt termed "the principal actor," he took orders, often reluctantly, from his domineering superiors, Haldeman and Ehrlichman. Claiming relatively little influence in shaping policy at the White House, Dean insisted that "my title was the best part of the job."
More specifically, Dean contended that the Watergate wiretapping operation was known in the White House by Chief of Staff Haldeman before the June 17 arrests—and since Haldeman regularly reported fully to the President, Dean "assumed" Nixon could have known. He said that he did not know firsthand, however, whether Nixon did, in fact, have such advance knowledge.
But, as early as Sept. 15, Dean charged, the President clearly indicated his awareness that a cover-up was under way. Then and later, Dean claimed, the President talked directly to him about Executive clemency and hush money for the