On May 10, without telling anyone, not even the members of his prayer group, former Presidential Aide Charles Colson phoned Richard Lee Bast, 41, who is regarded as Washington's best and toughest private detective. Colson wanted to talk to Bast about a very sensitive matter. Three days later they huddled for two hours in Bast's house in McLean, Va.; they met there once again on May 31. Last week Bast, who made extensive notes of both conversations, revealed his version of what Chuck Colson said. Even in the Watergate environment, where the unbelievable often comes true, Colson's story seemed bizarre beyond belief. Colson, the master of dirty tricks, said he had finally met his master: the CIA. According to Bast, Colson blamed the Watergate break-in on the CIA, which, he intimated, was attempting to take over the nation.
Bast has a reputation for honesty. Except for a single detail, Colson by week's end had not challenged the story. He admitted that he had met with Bast "in confidence to explore a possible professional relationship. None of the statements I made to Mr. Bast were intended for public consumption." Bast waited until Colson was sentenced to release the story. He thought it was important enough to be made public. And, says Bast, Colson agreed.
According to Bast's notes, this is how the conversations went:
Colson wanted Bast to investigate the CIA privately on behalf of himself and the six other defendants in the Watergate cover-up conspiracy trial. Not eager for that job, Bast suggested that the President appoint another special prosecutor to do it. Colson thought that was a good idea and later reported that Nixon was "very enthusiastic." But that is as far as the project went.
The agency, Colson confided to Bast, was out to get President Nixon. Why? asked Bast. Colson replied: "Nixon's theory is that they were coming in to spy, that they wanted to get enough on the White House so that they could get what they wanted." What did they want? "Who knows what they want?" Colson responded. Before the White House could take any counteraction, he went on, "our whole house of cards collapsed. Nobody controls the CIA. I mean nobody. If the CIA really has infiltrated this country to the extent I think it has, we ain't got a country left."
Scared President. Colson said that the President was planning last January to fire CIA Director William Colby and have the agency investigated. But White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig and Henry Kissinger supposedly talked him out of it. (The one fact that Colson later denied was that Nixon had intended to dismiss Colby.) Colson surmised that Haig and White House Lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt worked incognito for the CIA and that maybe Kissinger did too. The President was prevented from acting by the disloyal people around him; his phone, Colson believed, was even tapped by the CIA so that the agency could follow his every move. "The President is scared as hell, especially when he's weak and under attack. He's afraid to alienate the military or the foreign policy establishment."