The Watergate Cover-up Never Ends
Big Media never tires of repeating two enormous lies -- their versions of Joe McCarthy’s investigations and the Watergate Scandal. The latter gets another bad history treatment this May with HBO’s White House Plumbers. Back then, there was no effective broadcast opposition to dispute the falsehoods. Luckily talk radio and the internet came along and changed things. Just ask Hunter Biden.
The Watergate break-in and cover-up was the result of the disastrous interaction of John Dean with the CIA. This is demonstrated by mounds of evidence uncovered by writers starting with Jim Hougan’s in Secret Agenda. Watergate, Deep Throat, and the CIA, and proven in open court with a series of John Dean-Gordon Liddy lawsuits that ended in complete victory 20 years ago in Wells v. Liddy.
That’s not in any way to excuse the many stupid things Richard Nixon and his cronies did. But Nixon was at best a peripheral figure. Then as now, D.C. is a rigged town, with very different rules for Republicans as against Democrats.
The Watergate story really begins in 1969, when Nixon took office. The FBI and the CIA let it be known they would not do the black-bag jobs and political capers, they formerly did for the Kennedys and LBJ. The CIA however, and the Pentagon separately, did not trust Nixon and had quietly organized their own spy operations against him.
Enter White House Counsel, John Ehrlichman, Air Force hero of WWII and wealthy Seattle zoning lawyer, but a man totally ill-suited for the sensitive post he was given. He assembled, with Nixon’s permission, a White House investigative team, who other than Gordon Liddy, were actually part of the CIA spy team. James Rosen thinks Hunt, McCord and others were trying to infiltrate Nixon’s circle before the 1968 campaign even began. These “White House Plumbers” carried out the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’ office, on the hunch that Ellsberg was a Soviet agent, as opposed to just being a world-class jerk.
When Ehrlichman moved on, John Dean got to be White House counsel, thanks to his connections to the Goldwater family. Dean needed government employment because he was fired from his law firm a few years earlier for betraying client information.
Ever ambitious and ruthless, he saw Ehrlichman’s investigative team, many of whom had moved over to work for Nixon’s campaign, as his ticket to bigger things. He set his private investigators looking into Xaviera Hollander's black book. But she had as many Republican clients as Democrats. Then he looked into the operation Heidi Rikan was running right there next to the Watergate at the Columbia Plaza.
Rikan was roommates with Mo Biner, the gal Dean would later marry. Easily manipulating Nixon’s deputy campaign manager, the squishy Jeb Magruder, Dean got him to push a bugging operation into the Watergate offices of the DNC -- Heidi’s biggest customer contact.
But unknown to Dean, this wasn’t any ordinary high-dollar D.C. brothel. It was an actual CIA honeytrap. Robert Maheu, one-time Howard Hughes executive and the real-life inspiration for Jim Phelps of Mission Impossible, would often set these up for the agency during his time there.
At Dean’s urging, Magruder and Liddy came up with a massive spying plan for the 1972 election, called Gemstone, which John Mitchell, the campaign manager, soundly rejected.
Magruder came back to Liddy, claiming it was approved. Hunt’s team, including James McCord, ex-CIA, and Alfred Baldwin, McCord’s ex-FBI friend, began bugging the DNC offices. Rather than just target DNC chief Larry O’Brien though, they went after the secretary of an obscure DNC official, Spencer Oliver. It turned out that the secretary, Ida Wells, was the call-girl arranger. The Watergate grand jury heard all about this, and no surprise, the contents of Well’s conversations are still sealed.
Not coincidentally, Oliver’s dad was a private investigator who worked at Robert Mullen & Co., a CIA front connected to Howard Hughes, and also the daytime employer of Howard Hunt. While all this was going on, Hunt and the younger Oliver even discussed putting in a bid to buy Mullen.
The first set of DNC bugs was placed May 28, 1972, and notes and transcripts made of conversations by Baldwin across the street in Howard Johnson’s. Liddy began to think he was being duped when McCord told him they somehow could not record the telephone calls they were hearing. CIA people doubtlessly were told to sabotage the operation.
Magruder insisted the team go back in. The timing was bizarre. Nothing was happening at the DNC. But newspapers reported on June 10, Heidi’s lawyer, Phillip Bailey, was arrested on unrelated prostitution charges with implications to White House employee connections. This panicked Dean, who met with the federal prosecutors to insist they bury Bailey, who was sent to an insane asylum. Eager to cover his tracks, Dean then had Magruder do the June 17 DNC break-in to see what Oliver and the Democrats might know about him.
The burglary was bungled by McCord, who kept disappearing that night to confer with his employee, the disgraced former FBI man, Lou Russell. McCord dragged out the operation and left so many clues it was impossible the burglars would not be caught.
Russell, you might guess, was also the security man for Heidi’s Columbia Plaza brothel, and he was apparently looking to get paid by everybody on both sides. First working for Ted Kennedy’s private eye, Carmine Bellino, then in the summer of 1973, ready to appear for George Bush, the new RNC head, to blow the lid off Watergate. Sadly, he died mysteriously before Bush’s scheduled news conference.
The HBO series won’t tell you any of this, but it’s easy enough to find out. I would recommend Phil Stanford’s more recent White House Call Girl, which is an excellent introduction to the disaster, but also has a huge amount of new details about Heidi Rikan and the Deans. This is the real story of Watergate.
It would be incredibly entertaining to have a movie made based on this book; the nasty, sexy, funny truth about Washington, D.C. and how it really worked then and does, to a great extent, now. But we only get the HBO series with Liddy and Hunt as a Deep State Laurel and Hardy. Too bad.
Maybe somebody could option Mo Biner Dean’s 1980s potboiler novel Washington Wives, ghostwritten with Lucianne Goldberg, (D.C. really is a small town), the story of a slutty young woman from the wrong side of the tracks, who comes to Washington and is befriended by another woman who runs an international espionage/blackmail operation using a call girl ring at a famous D.C. hotel. Wonder where she ever got such an idea?
Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.
Image: National Archives