John Dean At Yorba Linda, or Who's Deep Throat Now?

    Tomorrow, June 17, is the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Watergate break-in. At the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, it will be marked by a lecture and book-signing by John W. Dean III, counsel to the President from 1970 until 1973, convicted felon (for obstruction of justice, to which he pled guilty on November 30 of the latter year), and one of the central figures in the Watergate scandal.

    Several months ago, when discussing a post Dean made on the site The Daily Beast in which he defended historian Stanley I. Kutler from criticism of the latter’s transcriptions of the Nixon tapes, I noted that in it he said he planned to reissue his first book Blind Ambition, his own account of Watergate, with new material. That book will be republished tomorrow, with a new afterword which, according to a press release promoting the reissue, “truly closes the case on Watergate.”

    It would seem a sure bet that one or another of our major conglomerate publishing imprints would be keen to acquire Blind Ambition, given such a promise, but the book is not being reprinted by any of them – not even Simon & Schuster, which originally published it. Instead, the book, according to Al Kamen in the Washington Post, is being “privately published” by Polimedia, the author’s PR firm. The event at the Nixon Library is described as the reissue’s “launch” at the firm’s site.

    Dean’s appearance in Yorba Linda is not being greeted with universal hosannas, as Michael Isikoff of Newsweek makes clear in this article. Robert Odle, who worked in the communications office of the Nixon White House (and was later administration director of the Committee to Re-Elect The President) says in it that inviting Dean to the Library is “like having Monica Lewinsky speak at the Clinton library on the anniversary of President Clinton’s impeachment.” (As it happens, Isikoff is the journalist who broke the Lewinsky story.)

    And at the Washington Times, Susan Naulty, who was the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace’s archivist from the institution’s dedication in 1990 until 2003, explains why she believes Dean’s appearance is not appropriate. She says, in part:

    [T]hanks to Mr. Nixon’s voluminous archives, scholars with a better understanding of the man and his career-long struggle to advance freedom over tyranny on the one hand, and with considerably more data regarding the congressional investigations directed against him on the other, may well begin to wonder who was the real Machiavelli in Watergate – the president or his accusers. If the latter, the lessons of that crisis have enormous relevance for us today – and for freedom-loving people everywhere and at all times.

    One drawback of Ms. Naulty’s article is that it does not precisely explain how Dean will come to be in Yorba Linda tomorrow. He was invited to speak by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, which is part of the federal National Archives and Records Administration, and which now operates the museum facility in Yorba Linda and will be transferring the Nixon presidential documents to the library facility next year from Maryland. The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation (sponsor of TNN), which was in charge of the Library when it was a private institution, not part of the NARA presidential libraries system, from 1990 until 2007, was not consulted about Dean’s appearance and, as Isikoff points out, has expressed its disapproval of the invitation.

    Ms. Naulty’s article has attracted several comments at the Times’s site. A rather interesting one, from “anonymous222,” refers to Dean’s involvement in the quest for the true identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate informant.

    In 1975, Dean suggested DT was Earl Silbert, who was the prosecutor of the Watergate defendants in the early stages of the scandal. Then, in his 1982 book Lost Honor, Dean devoted a number of pages to arguing, rather unconvincingly, that Gen. Alexander Haig was DT.

    Twenty years later, Dean wrote an e-book published by Salon.com, Unmasking Deep Throat. Several articles, before the book was published, claimed that Dean would identify Washington lawyer Jonathan Rose as DT, which reportedly prompted Rose to inform Salon that he would sue for defamation in such an event. But when the book finally came off the cyberpress (or whatever one would call it), Dean instead suggested DT was a composite of more than one of Bob Woodward’s sources. (After Mark Felt “confessed” to being DT in 2005, Dean told Keith Olbermann of MSNBC he still held to the composite theory.)

    And then there are the still-murky events of 2003. In that year, a group of student journalists at the University of Illinois came to the much-publicized conclusion that Fred Fielding, White House counsel for two presidents (and Dean’s deputy in the Nixon years), was DT. At the time it was reported that Dean had gone to the trouble of personally contacting some of the students to explain to them why Fielding could not be DT.

    But some questions remain. As Olbermann observed in 2005, according to All The President’s Men, DT talked to Woodward about the famous 18 1/2 minute gap in the tapes before it became public knowledge. Felt, who had left the FBI, would have been unlikely to know about the gap. Fielding, who was still White House deputy counsel at the time, would have known. (Rather intriguingly, Fielding’s Wikipedia entry incorrectly states that his work in the Nixon Administration ended in 1972.)

    So, were I in Yorba Linda tomorrow, one question I’d like to pose to Dean would be: Why did you try to steer the Illini journalists-to-be from the conclusion Fielding was Deep Throat? There are some other questions that come to mind, and tomorrow I hope to discuss them here.


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