(7 of 13)
A decision was made at La Costa, Dean said, to profess cooperation with the committee but privately attempt "to restrain the investigation and make it as difficult as possible to get information and witnesses." The group discussed means of trying to prove that Democrats had undertaken Watergate-like snooping and bugging in their campaigns. Incredibly, Haldeman suggested that the Nixon re-election committee might "hire private investigators to dig out information on the Democrats."
Dean objected on grounds that "this would be more political surveillance —yet the matter was left unresolved."
But it was the critical contacts between Dean and the President that go to the core of the momentous controversy. Confirming a Dean claim that it had at first sharply denied, the White House last week agreed that there had been at least 22 meetings and 14 telephone conversations between the two men. The sudden increase in the frequency of communication led Dean to wonder whether Nixon might be creating a basis for claiming Executive privilege and an attorney-client relationship in order to protect himself. Dean's version of the most significant of the meetings:
SEPT. 15, 1972. The Watergate grand jury in Washington had just handed down its indictments, which reached no higher than the Nixon finance committee's counsel, Liddy. Summoned to the Oval Office in the late afternoon,
Dean found the President and Haldeman "in very good spirits, and my reception was very warm and cordial." Then, in Dean's damning recollection, "the President told me that Bob had kept him posted on my handling of the Watergate case. The President told me I had done a good job and he appreciated how difficult a task it had been and the President was pleased that the case had stopped with Liddy."
Reinforcing the point that there could be no misunderstanding of why the President was congratulating him, Dean testified: "I responded that I could not take credit because others had done much more difficult things than I had done." (Dean later explained to the Ervin committee that he was thinking of Magruder, for one, who had perjured himself, after coaching from Dean, to keep the grand jury from learning of higher involvement.) "I also told him that there was a long way to go before this matter would end, and that I certainly could make no assurance that the day would not come when this matter would start to unravel." Dean told the President that there would be a good chance to delay the Democratic civil suits against the Nixon committee until after the election because committee lawyers were talking out of court to the judge, Charles R. Richey, who was "very understanding and trying to accommodate their problems." Said Nixon: "Well, that's helpful." Richey dismissed Dean's story as "poppycock."
If accurate, Dean's account meant that the President was encouraging the cover-up in the criminal case and was approving attempts to influence the judge in the civil suits.