Lately, my readings of Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life have focused on Watergate. I have two items.
1. Aitken seems to be open to the argument of Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin in Silent Coup
that White House Counsel John Dean ordered the Watergate break-in to
uncover information about a call-girl ring. Aitken said that he thought
that the thesis was pretty far-fetched, until he talked with Gordon
Liddy about it. Liddy would come to accept Silent Coup's
thesis. When I first read that in another book, I was puzzled. Was not
Liddy a major participant in the Watergate scandal? Wouldn't he know
at the outset that the Watergate break-in was ordered by Dean and was
intended to uncover information about a call-girl ring, if that were
indeed the truth? How could Liddy come to accept a new theory about Watergate, as if he were some dispassionate observer, rather than an actual participant?
It turns out that Liddy accepted Silent Coup's
thesis because that made sense to him in retrospect. Liddy
acknowledges that, while he was participating in Watergate, he did not
know everything that was going on. On page 471, Aitken quotes Liddy as
"Without doubt the man who commanded and conceived the
Watergate operation was John Dean. Nixon and [Attorney General John]
Mitchell had nothing whatever to do with it. I didn't realize that at
the time. Like most other people I was fooled by Dean's facile lies.
'Oh you don't understand Mitchell's ways', he told me when I was
assuming from everything Mitchell said to me that he wanted Gemstone
aborted...[H]e didn't tell anyone except Howard Hunt that what he was
really after was the call-girl address book and a bug on the phones that
were used to book the call girls. He duped Magruder on that one and he
duped me. I remember Magruder saying to me, 'what we want is what
they've got right here', pointing at the middle drawer of his own desk.
Now he didn't mean Larry O'Brien's desk. When the Cubans went in they
didn't go near O'Brien's office in the DNC. Hunt gave them their orders
and on the second break-in they went straight to the office and the
desk of a secretary called Maxie Wells. Our look-out post from the
hotel over the road was angled to that office not to O'Brien's...I
thought I was involved in an operation that was politically important to
the President. I now know it was an operation that was personally
important to John Dean. Period."
On the secretary, Maxie Wells, Aitken states: "According to Silent Coup,
the FBI was able to establish that Wells's desk was the burglars'
target, because when the burglars were being arrested, one had tried to
conceal a key that fitted Wells's desk. For some mysterious reason,
this fact was ignored throughout the investigation of the break-in."
claim that the Watergate burglars "didn't go near O'Brien's office in
the DNC" stood out to me, for it recalled to my mind Joan Hoff's claim
in Nixon Reconsidered that "the Watergate burglars did not
initially bug, nor were they subsequently caught in, O’Brien’s office"
(page 305). That puzzles me because I have read in more than one
biography of Nixon that the burglars indeed did break into Lawrence O'Brien's office. Who's right on this?
2. I'd like to turn my attention now to the topic of Deep Throat, the alleged inside source that was feeding Washington Post
reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein information about Watergate.
Mark Felt claimed to be Deep Throat, and Woodward confirmed Felt's
claim. When Jonathan Aitken wrote Nixon: A Life, however, the
identity of Deep Throat was still unknown. Aitken notes that Deep
Throat told Woodward and Bernstein that material had been deliberately
erased from the tapes, and this was before knowledge of the missing 18
and 1/2 minutes was widespread. For Aitken, that should narrow down the
candidates for Deep Throat, for not many people were aware of the
missing 18 and 1/2 minutes. Those who were aware included Nixon, Rose
Mary Woods, Al Haig, Fred Buzhardt, Steve Bull, and Major General John
C. Bennett (deputy to Haig). Aitken excludes Nixon and Woods from being
Deep Throat because he doubts that they would leak stories about
themselves. Aitken also believes that Deep Throat was probably the
person who deliberately erased the 18 and 1/2 minutes, since "none of
the remaining four should have had knowledge, at the time of the Deep
Throat-Woodward conversation, that the gap had been caused by deliberate
erasures" (page 512).
How can what Aitken says be reconciled with
Mark Felt being Deep Throat? Incidentally, it's on account of these
sorts of issues (among other things) that Ann Coulter doubts that Mark
Felt even was Deep Throat, notwithstanding what Felt and Woodward said. In this column,
she states: " The fictional Deep Throat knew things Felt could not
possibly have known, such as the 18 1/2-minute gap on one of the White
House tapes. Only six people knew about the gap when Woodward reported
it. All of them worked at the White House. Felt not only didn't work at
the White House, but when the story broke, he also didn't even work at
the FBI anymore."
puzzles over how Felt could have known about the missing 18 and 1/2
minutes and raises a possible solution: "How did Mark Felt know about
the deliberate erasures on the tape when Rose Mary Woods herself did not
discover the added soft-buzz erasures until November 6, 1973? Did the
theorized White House lawyer somehow tip off Felt after making the
soft-buzz erasures?" In this scenario, Deep Throat was not the one who
made the erasures, but a White House lawyer who allegedly made some of
the erasures may have tipped Felt off about them.