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Later, Senator Gurney sharply probed Dean's contention that Nixon was unmistakably congratulating him for limiting the Watergate indictments. Asked Gurney: "How can you say that the President knew all about these things from a simple observation by him that 'Bob tells me you are doing a good job'?" This led Dean to shift slightly his version of the President's wording and then complain: "We are quibbling over words." Snapped Gurney: "We are talking about something very important, whether the President of the United States knew on Sept. 15 about the Watergate and the cover-up." Then the Senator summed up: "Your whole theory on saying that the President of the United States knew about Watergate on Sept. 15 is purely an impression; there isn't a single shred of evidence that came out of this meeting."
FEB. 27, 1973. The President told Dean that the Watergate affair was taking up too much of the time of his two top assistants, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and therefore Dean could stop reporting through them and deal directly with him. Nixon gave another puzzling reason: "He also told me that they were principals in the matter and I, therefore, could be more objective than they." Dean said he was not sure later what the President had meant by calling them "principals."
Nixon, Dean testified, also told him that he "would never let Haldeman and Ehrlichman go to the Hill" to appear at the Ervin committee hearings. He would protect them with a claim of Executive privilege and would, at most, permit his aides to respond to written questions.
Dean agreed that these "could be handled."
FEB. 28, 1973. Dean made his first attempt to warn Nixon of the seriousness of the affair from a legal standpoint. "I told him that I thought he should know that I was also involved in the post-June 17 activities regarding Watergate. I briefly described to him why I thought I had legal problems in that I had been a conduit for many of the decisions that were made and therefore could be involved in an obstruction of justice. He would not accept my analysis and did not want me to get into it in any detail."
The President had thus been told by his counsel that the cover-up might have involved crimes, but he chose for unexplained reasons to brush this aside. Despite a public posture of seeking to get out the truth, he was privately working, by Dean's account, against full disclosure to the Ervin committee. A White House version of this meeting sharply contradicts Dean. It says he assured Nixon that there was no White House involvement.
MARCH 13, 1973. For the first time, Dean said, he talked directly to the President about the payment of hush money to the seven Watergate defendants.
When Haldeman was in the room, Dean related, "I told the President that there was no money to pay these individuals to meet their demands. He asked me how much it would cost. I told him that I could only estimate, that it might be as high as a million dollars or more. He told me that that was no problem and he also looked over at Haldeman and repeated the statement. He then asked me who was demanding this money, and I told him it was principally coming from Hunt through his attorney."
Dean said: "The President then referred to the fact that Hunt had been