THE HEARINGS: Dean's Case Against the President

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 13)

wiretappers, as well as about ways to prevent the potential damage of Justice Department investigations, Democratic Party civil suits and congressional hearings.

If Dean's claims are true—and his supporting details as well as some of his circumstantial documents were impressive—that would make Nixon's May 22 denials outright lies or at least render the presidential statements once again "inoperative." At that time Nixon said flatly that he had known nothing about offers of clemency or of any efforts to provide the defendants with funds and that he had taken no part in any efforts to cover up Watergate.

Dean's direct charges against the President still lacked corroboration. Dean's motives remained suspect, since he obviously hoped to avoid a long prison term for his admitted illegal acts. Yet even if those facts leave many unconvinced of Nixon's complicity in Watergate, Dean's dismaying description of the climate of fear existing within the Nixon White House is almost as alarming as the affair that it spawned. With little regard for the law and under repeated proddings by the President himself. Dean contended, the Nixon staff used or contemplated using almost any available tactic to undermine political opponents, punish press critics, subdue antiwar protesters and gather political intelligence, including lists of "enemies" (see story page 19).

Dean insisted that in this fortress of fear he served "as a restraining influence against many wild and crazy schemes." Periodic surveillance of Senator Edward Kennedy was surreptitiously ordered, even when he was on a trip to India, but it turned up nothing of interest to the White House. However, when a round-the-clock tailing of Kennedy was demanded by Haldeman, Dean got the project canceled on the sound theory that the tracker might be mistaken for someone posing a threat to Kennedy's life.

Although a Colson associate later claimed that it was only a joke, Dean took seriously Colson's suggestion that Washington's Brookings Institution be fire-bombed and raided to get some politically sensitive papers. In fact, Dean grabbed a military jet to California in order to persuade Ehrlichman to order Colson to forget the idea. Dean said he simply filed away many suggestions that he considered extreme and responded to them only if there were persistent pressures from his superiors.

It was Nixon's personal outrage at being exposed to demonstrators that seemed most dramatically to set the preWatergate White House mood. Dean told of Nixon's spotting "a lone man with a large ten-foot sign stretched out in front of Lafayette Park" within sight of his window. Soon a White House aide was rushing to round up "thugs" to take care of the protester. Dean intervened, got police to persuade the man to move. A man who broke police lines during Nixon's Inauguration but was knocked down by Secret Service agents well short of Nixon's car so angered the President that Dean was repeatedly badgered for not getting the man prosecuted. An investigation was launched, but Dean found that the trespasser had had no intention of harming the President. Dean could only explain helplessly that crossing a police barricade was too trifling a violation for officials to pursue.

However trivial each of such incidents seemed in isolation,

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13