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The CIA was involved in all aspects of Watergate, said Colson as he ticked them off. The agency helped carry out the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, destroyed evidence, put out a cover story to camouflage its part in the Watergate break-in and tried to divert the FBI from investigating it. He confessed to Bast: "I don't say this to my people. They'd think I'm nuts. I think they killed Dorothy Hunt." He was referring to the death of E. Howard Hunt's wife in an air crash in 1972. Colson thought that the agency was trying to silence her. Almost gratuitously, Colson told Bast that he believed Howard Hughes had given $100,000 and even more to the President and his family for their private use. "Hughes can blow the whistle on him."
When parts of Colson's yarn were published last week, no one was more interested than Senator Howard Baker, vice chairman of the Watergate committee. Suspecting a CIA link to Watergate, Baker had written a 35-page, unpublished report on the subject with some help from Colson. But Baker aides claim that there is nothing in the report to substantiate Colson's charge that the agency had a role in planning or executing the Watergate breakin, much less in plotting against the President.
There are, of course, some unanswered questions about the CIA's relationship to Watergate. Some of the men deeply involved in Watergatenotably E. Howard Hunt Jr. and James McCordwere retired longtime employees of the agency. A CIA agent was on hand when McCord's wife burned some of his personal papers.
Colson's monstrous plot, however, can scarcely be constructed from such shards. Why, then, did he unburden himself to Bast? One theory is that Colson wanted to make a last desperate try to get himself (and the President) off the hook. So why not blame Watergate on the CIA, which is already highly suspect to much of the public and in no position to defend itself. If this was indeed the scheme, then considering how battered American institutions are and how in need of support and not defamation, it was one of the dirtiest tricks that Colson has played to date.
But another explanation is that Colson has lost touch with reality. When he was talking to Bast, he appeared calm at times, at times quite agitated. At one point he remarked to the detective: "You might think I belong in an asylum." A Colson associate thinks that impending imprisonment may have weighed on him: "Look, you're going to jail. You get pretty desperate." In a sense, Colson's CIA fantasies are not that far removed from some of his previous schemes: fire-bombing the Brookings Institution, for instance, or forging cables linking President Kennedy to the assassination of South Viet Nam's President Diem. The key question is not why Colson is the way he is, but why he was ever given easy access to the highest office in the land.