John Dean talks about Watergate, Bush at book fair

November 30, 1999|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? He started off with a joke, but only a few in the audience seemed to understand it.

"Little microphones have a way of picking up my voice," John Dean said as he held a microphone up Saturday, referencing the microphones Richard Nixon had hidden in the White House and used to secretly tape conversations during his presidency.

Dean, who worked as Nixon's White House counsel, was involved in the Watergate scandal, and later testified for the prosecution about it, helping to expose Nixon's role in the matter.

In Martinsburg to promote his two most recent books, "Worse Than Watergate" and "Conservatives Without Conscience," Dean spoke for more than an hour at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College about the Bush administration and Watergate-related matters.


Dean's father and grandfather are from Martinsburg, and he still has family in the area. He appeared as part of the West Virginia Book Faire at Olde Towne Martinsburg.

Dean told a crowd that his displeasure with the Bush administration is based in part on its intense secrecy, the likes of which he said he has never before seen.

Mainstream media outlets seemed to pay little attention to the story for years, although recently, books written by journalists and others have helped to show how the administration operates, Dean said.

Dean said he has spoken to numerous reporters and officials within the administration who pointed him to troubling areas.

A woman in the White House press corps told Dean that to attend briefings in the East Room, reporters must walk in two-by-two and then sit in assigned seats, a situation she compared to being in kindergarten. Questions must be submitted in advance, and the briefings are more scripted than substantive, the journalist said, according to Dean.

Reporters who write stories that anger the administration risk having their access to the administration cut off, Dean said.

One aspect he learned early on is that Bush might not be calling all the shots.

"We have the most powerful vice president we've ever had," Dean said. "(Dick Cheney) has been able to let George Bush wake up every morning and actually believe he's president."

When his "Worse Than Watergate" book first came out, some called the title pejorative. Now, Dean said, he thinks it should be retitled "Much Worse Than Watergate."

As well as discussing the Bush administration, Dean also talked about a lawsuit he filed after a book was published claiming Dean orchestrated the Watergate break-in after learning his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Maureen, was involved in a call-girl ring.

Dean discussed how he spent several years and millions of dollars suing the book's publishing company, a lawsuit that eventually was settled to the Deans' satisfaction, he said.

Dean also discussed whether it would be possible for Americans to fall under the influence of an authoritarian figure comparable to Hitler or Mussolini. Another event such as Sept. 11 could increase that possibility, he believes.

"It'll be very easy for people to say, you take the Bill of Rights and give us some comfort," Dean said.

During a question-and-answer session, an audience member asked Dean whether he believes Bush has committed any impeachable offenses.

In response, Dean said that he believes the president had to know he was misleading Congress and the American people when he took the nation to war with Iraq ? which Dean at first misspoke and called Vietnam.

The torturing of detainees and secret wiretapping also are, in Dean's opinion, offenses that could warrant an impeachment hearing, he said.

At the end of the discussion, Jerry Smith stood up from the audience and addressed Dean.

"I take great pleasure in being able to thank you personally for what you did for this country," he told Dean.

Later, Smith, 72, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said he spent many restless hours worrying about Watergate as it unfolded. He said he was impressed with Dean's actions after the scandal became public.

"He stood up at 35 (years old) when other people who were older were letting Nixon get away with that," Smith said.

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