July 02, 2014

The Watergate Building, Foggy Bottom

The Watergate Building, Foggy Bottom

Source: Shutterstock

The Times writer worked to squeeze mileage from the old “€œThis pretty blonde is more substantial than she looks!”€ trope”€”though in this case, “€œsubstantial”€ seems to be a euphemism for “€œsly,”€ if anything in Stanford’s account is correct. Where Stanford seems quite unimpressed by 19-year-old Mo’s legal theft of an $18,000 ring from an unsuccessful suitor, the Times glosses it over as part of a string of frowny-face minor tragedies that allowed the Deans to meet even cuter when John rode in on his oily white horse.

In the Times interview, Mo thanks God for the autobios she and Dean were able to publish after the trial to cover their legal expenses. John’s Blind Ambition was made into an eight-part miniseries in 1978, which, from the revisionist point of view, served to solidify the Deans”€™ side of the story in the public mind.

The Times writes, “€œIt was Maureen Dean who finally talked her husband into telling the truth on Capitol Hill. … After she typed up his testimony, she told him she wanted to be at the hearings to hear him read it.”€

Stanford thinks Dean’s conversion to the truth went a little differently:

If, as Dean insists, he didn”€™t have anything to do with the break-ins, he is certainly running the cover-up from day one. …

Before the month is out, Dean is talking with the prosecutor, bargaining for immunity. It doesn”€™t take long for the lawyers in the prosecutor’s office to realize that Dean isn”€™t telling the truth about everything. In fact, as one staff member would write, they note “€œsignificant discrepancies”€ in the story Dean is telling them. However, they”€™re willing to cut him some slack. As the first member of the administration to break ranks, he’s a particularly valuable witness.

In Stanford’s account, even when quite young, Mo and Heidi seem as dismally cold and miserably calculating as you would expect from ambitious types who had been molested by, or lost, their fathers as girls. They”€™re strong women, you might say, but their ad hoc and materialistic means of coping drained them of their humanity: plastering their scars with jewels and furs and power only retarded their emotions further.

Even when they”€™re rolling in luxury, at one point in their twenties, Heidi and another friend, Josephine Alvarez, can”€™t think of anything better to do all day than play Monopoly while they drink champagne, smoke pot, and wait for the stimulation of dinner with the mob. Stanford makes no excuses for them; he gives the reader the facts. Sometimes the transitions can be brusque and explanations sketchy, but I suspect this is because he doesn”€™t want to overstretch those facts for the sake of more perfectly simulating a novel.

But narrative forms and naked ones aside, what’s most interesting about Stanford’s version of the Watergate story is his insistence that there is no available evidence to indicate that Nixon knew about the break-ins or wiretap till after the scandal broke.

Further, although the idea of breaking into the Watergate originated with the administration, the CIA made sure it was their guys who went in to carry it out. Stanford recaps the multiple bungled attempts that it took these seasoned CIA pros to accomplish their first mission to bug the Watergate, then details the highly fishy implosion of the second burglary. The facts of how it went down imply that the CIA made Dean’s blackmail plot backfire on purpose. But why? Stanford repeatedly cautions against making too neat a mental package of what happened:

As usual, the reality is much more interesting”€”all the more so once we accept the fact that we really don”€™t know what’s going on here. … As should be apparent by now, if anyone tries to tell you he knows everything about Watergate, he either hasn”€™t done his homework or he’s trying to sell you a bill of goods.

By the time of the Watergate burglaries, as Stanford contends in a Red Ice Radio interview, the left and the right both wanted rid of the president. It was a matter of time before someone found a chink, and Dean appears to have provided it. Most politicians of the era were guilty of spying on each other and placating or using the mob, the same dirty dealings Nixon was reviled for. He was the one who got “€œcaught”€”€”caught trying to cover up a mess he may not have even made. The corruption Stanford outlines at all levels of government is stomach-churning. But we”€™d rather have a simple story with heroes and villains than the tangled mess that is.


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