John Dean

Trump University $25 Million Settlement: One Down, 75 More Open Lawsuits to Go

(Editor's note: This column was published before Donald Trump agreed Friday to settle the Trump University lawsuits for $25 million.)

Keep reading... Show less

How Donald Trump Has Brought America's Darkest Political Obsessions and Beliefs Into The Open

Authoritarian leader personality-type and would-like-to-be-president, Donald Trump, after decades in the glare of media attention, instinctively understands exactly how to manipulate the fourth estate better than any political figure in modern America. By being himself, he is taking the country to school on how to dominate public attention with his inflammatory rhetoric, which he intuitively employs through unfiltered social media.

Keep reading... Show less

Republican Frontrunners Know Nothing About Being President, Says Former White House Counsel John Dean

I write these thoughts as CNN ends the second GOP candidate debate at the Reagan Library. Setting aside my own beliefs and reactions to what was actually said, and without being influenced by so-called “pundits,” it is clear to me that the candidate who most benefited from this gathering was Carly Fiorina, who was articulate, no nonsense, and able to keep “the boys” in their place. The polls in the coming days will reveal if my reading is correct. But even more importantly, those polls will indicate if Donald Trump and Ben Carson remain the double digit leaders in this gaggle of GOP candidates.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump Is the Authoritarian Ruler Republicans - and Some Dems - Have Been Waiting For

So far, 500 people have registered with the Federal Elections Commission to run for President of the United States. Needless to say, all but a few of these aspirants lack any chance whatsoever of becoming president. To the surprise of many, Donald Trump has fully registered with the FEC and surfaced as the early leader for the Republicans.

Keep reading... Show less

Was It the National Security Bureaucrats Who Forced Obama to Hold on to the Torture Photos?

Allow me to share some analysis about the way things work in Washington. President Obama's flip-flop on his agreement to turn over photographs of detainees being tortured by American soldiers is a message with broad and clear implications. Those who believe that the Obama Administration should expose and prosecute persons who committed war crimes should understand that it is not going to happen the way they would like, or as quickly, because Obama is having internal battles as well. His pullback is not occurring because he fears that Republicans will attack him (he knows they will); rather it is occurring because he needs the national security community behind him, and they fear they will be further embarrassed and humiliated if more information is revealed.

Keep reading... Show less

It Is Now Absolutely Crystal Clear That Republican Rule Is Dangerous and Authoritarian

Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.

Republicans' authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which it to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.

Authoritarian conservatives are primarily anti-government, except where they believe the government can be useful to impose moral or social order (for example, with respect to matters like abortion, prayer in schools, or prohibiting sexually-explicit information from public view). Similarly, Republicans' limited-government attitude does not apply regarding national security, where they feel there can never be too much government activity - nor are the rights and liberties of individuals respected when national security is involved. Authoritarian Republicans do oppose the government interfering with markets and the economy, however -- and generally oppose the government's doing anything to help anyone they feel should be able to help themselves.

In my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, I set forth the facts regarding the consequences of the Republicans' controlling government for too many years. No Republican -- nor anyone else, for that matter -- has refuted these facts, and for good reason: They are irrefutable.

The McCain/Palin Ticket Perfectly Fits the Authoritarian Conservative Mold

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates, have shown themselves to be unapologetic and archetypical authoritarian conservatives. Indeed, their campaign has warmed the hearts of fellow authoritarians, who applaud them for their negativity, nastiness, and dishonest ploys and only criticize them for not offering more of the same.

The McCain/Palin campaign has assumed a typical authoritarian posture: The candidates provide no true, specific proposals to address America's needs. Rather, they simply ask voters to "trust us" and suggest that their opponents - Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are not "real Americans" like McCain, Palin, and the voters they are seeking to court. Accordingly, McCain and Plain have called Obama "a socialist," "a redistributionist," "a Marxist," and "a communist" - without a shred of evidence to support their name-calling, for these terms are pejorative, rather than in any manner descriptive. This is the way authoritarian leaders operate.

In my book Conservatives Without Conscience, I set forth the traits of authoritarian leaders and followers, which have been distilled from a half-century of empirical research, during which thousands of people have voluntarily been interviewed by social scientists. The touch points in these somewhat-overlapping lists of character traits provide a clear picture of the characters of both John McCain and Sarah Palin.

McCain, especially, fits perfectly as an authoritarian leader. Such leaders possess most, if not all, of these traits:

* dominating
* opposes equality
* desirous of personal power
* amoral
* intimidating and bullying
* faintly hedonistic
* vengeful
* pitiless
* exploitive
* manipulative
* dishonest
* cheats to win
* highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
* mean-spirited
* militant
* nationalistic
* tells others what they want to hear
* takes advantage of "suckers"
* specializes in creating false images to sell self
* may or may not be religious
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

Incidentally, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney also can be described by these well-defined and typical traits -- which is why a McCain presidency is so likely to be nearly identical to a Bush presidency.

Clearly, Sarah Palin also has some qualities typical of authoritarian leaders, not to mention almost all of the traits found among authoritarian followers. Specifically, such followers can be described as follows:

* submissive to authority
* aggressive on behalf of authority
* highly conventional in their behavior
* highly religious
* possessing moderate to little education
* trusting of untrustworthy authorities
* prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals and followers of religions other than their own)
* mean-spirited
* narrow-minded
* intolerant
* bullying
* zealous
* dogmatic
* uncritical toward chosen authority
* hypocritical
* inconsistent and contradictory
* prone to panic easily
* highly self-righteous
* moralistic
* strict disciplinarians
* severely punitive
* demanding loyalty and returning it
* possessing little self-awareness
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

The leading authority on right-wing authoritarianism, a man who devoted his career to developing hard empirical data about these people and their beliefs, is Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer, a social scientist based in Canada, flushed out these typical character traits in decades of testing.

Altemeyer believes about 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is solidly authoritarian (with that group mostly composed of followers, and a small percentage of potential leaders). It is in these ranks of some 70 million that we find the core of the McCain/Palin supporters. They are people who are, in Altemeyer's words, are "so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

The Problem with Electing Authoritarian Conservatives

What is wrong with being an authoritarian conservative? Well, if you want to take the country where they do, nothing. "They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result," Altemeyer told me. "The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of 'old-time religion' on a crusade, and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away."

I would nominate McCain's "Joe the Plumber" as a new poster-boy of the authoritarian followers. He is a believer, and he has signed on. On November 4, 2008, we will learn how many more Americans will join the ranks of the authoritarians.

Frankly, the fact that the pre-election polls are close - after eight years of authoritarian leadership from Bush and Cheney, and given its disastrous results -- shows that many Americans either do not realize where a McCain/Palin presidency might take us, or they are happy to go there. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me, for there is only one way to deal with these conservative zealots: Keep them out of power.

This election should be a slam dunk for Barack Obama, who has run a masterful campaign. It was no small undertaking winning the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and in doing so, he has shown without any doubt (in my mind anyway) that he is not only qualified to be president, but that he might be a once-in-a-lifetime leader who can forever change the nation and the world for the better.

If Obama is rejected on November 4th for another authoritarian conservative like McCain, I must ask if Americans are sufficiently intelligent to competently govern themselves. I can understand authoritarian conservatives voting for McCain, for they know no better. It is well-understood that most everyone votes with his or her heart, not his or her head. Polls show that 81 percent of Americans "feel" (in their hearts and their heads) that our country is going the wrong way. How could anyone with such thoughts and feelings vote for more authoritarian conservatism, which has done so much to take the nation in the wrong direction?

We will all find out on (or about) November 5th.

Bush May Be Forced to Explain Destroyed CIA Torture Tapes


By my count, there appear to be no less than ten preliminary investigations underway, following the revelation that the CIA destroyed at least two sets of videotapes (containing hundreds of hours of footage) of "advanced interrogation" techniques being employed in terrorism investigations. In fact, every branch of government is now involved.

Within the Executive Branch, according to news reports, the CIA's General Counsel and Inspector General are investigating. The Department of Justice is investigating. On Capitol Hill, both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are investigating. In addition, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is inquiring as to whether the Federal Records Act has been violated. And Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has made preliminary inquiries as well.

The Bush Administration has shown that it is not very good at investigating itself, so no one should hold their breath for the outcome of either the CIA or Justice Department investigation. And Attorney General Mukasey has dismissed an independent special counsel inquiry as very premature. The Democratic-controlled Congress could get to the bottom of all this, but one should bear in mind that our elected representatives have yet to get to the bottom of the political firing of U.S. Attorneys (although, to be fair, they did get former Attorney General Gonzales to resign). Today, Congress suffers from a degenerative spinal malady, and while they can bark, they appear unable to bite.

There are three court orders that may have been violated, but one in particular strikes me as a very serious problem for the CIA. Accordingly, we may well be in the unique situation in which a pending civil lawsuit might flush out some answers, and the federal judiciary might thus embarrass the other branches into actually taking meaningful action. I say "might" because the Bush Administration thinks nothing of stiffing federal court judges who seek information, and they probably figure they can tap-dance for the federal judiciary - along with all the other inquiries -- until they are out of Washington on January 20, 2009.

Nevertheless, the situation in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union, could well force the Bush Administration's hand. An order holding the CIA in contempt of court might get the Administration's attention.

The ACLU's Lawsuit, and the Order that the CIA Produce Documents

When word of mistreatment of detainees surfaced, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request targeting the CIA and others on October 7, 2003 and May 25, 2004, seeking records concerning the treatment of all detainees apprehended after September 11, 2001 and held in U.S. custody abroad. This, of course, would mean not only in Guantanamo but in the secret prisons in Eastern Europe operated by the CIA.

Not surprisingly, the government stiffed the request, so the ACLU filed a lawsuit in June 2004 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case ended up in the courtroom of Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. On September 15, 2004, Judge Hellerstein ordered the CIA and other government departments to "produce or identify" all responsive documents by October 15, 2004.

The CIA claimed that some of the relevant documents were the subject of an inquiry by the CIA's Office of the Inspector General, so its attorneys requested a stay of the judge's order and an extension of time to comply with the request for other documents. In February 2005, Judge Hellerstein denied the CIA's request for a stay, but he did not enforce the stay immediately when the CIA moved for the judge to reconsider his ruling based on additional evidence from the CIA's Director - as the CIA entered a full-court press to prevent the ACLU from getting anything.

This stalling action had been playing out, when news of the destruction of the tapes became public. Now, in the action before Judge Hellerstein, he ACLU has moved to hold the CIA in contempt of court, based on the Judge's September 15, 2004 ruling. It is difficult to see why the CIA is, in fact, not in contempt, given the nature of the FOIA request and the judge's order.

Motion to Hold the CIA In Contempt

On December 6, The New York Times reported that the CIA had destroyed two videotapes of CIA detainees who were being subjected to "aggressive interrogation techniques" - more commonly called torture. The Washington Post soon reported that the destruction of the tapes had occurred in November 2005. CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly acknowledged that destruction, and soon confirmed this statement under oath in testimony to the House and Senate, saying that the destruction had occurred before he became Director.

Passing over who did what and why to focus on the situation in Judge Hellerstein's courtroom, on December 12, of this year the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt of court. The ACLU makes a powerful case that the CIA violated Judge Hellerstein's order of September 15, 2005 - issued before the CIA's apparent destruction of the tapes.

The Court's Order required the CIA to "produce or identify all responsive documents." Those not produced had to be identified. Classified documents were to be "identified in camera [that is, only to the court] on a log produced to the court." Recall, too, that the FOIA request sought information on the handling of all but a few detainees, who were within the United States.

It is well- and long-established law that a court order of this nature requires that the party preserve all information possessed that is responsive to the request. Thus, the CIA was obligated to preserve the tapes even if they were hell-bent on fighting in court to deny them to the ACLU. And as this litigation proceeded, Judge Hellerstein's later orders only served to reinforce that obligation, as a string of precedents makes clear.

What Is Next?


In addition to holding the CIA in contempt for destroying tapes that were subject to an FOIA request that surely reached these videos, the ACLU has also requested that the CIA provide some public disclosure of the facts surrounding the destruction of this material. In addition, the ACLU has requested permission to take depositions of those involved, under oath, and has requested that the court issue a further order barring the CIA from destroying, removing, or tampering with other records that are the subject of the ACLU's FOIA request. Finally, the ACLU is seeking costs for its expenses and such other relief as the Court may deem appropriate.

How this is resolved depends on one factor: Judge Hellerstein. Doubtless, the CIA will respond with papers proclaiming its innocence, and no doubt denying that it was aware of the destruction. However, this is where the Judge himself - if he does not give the ACLU discovery powers - may demand that the CIA tell him what they have been up to, given his clear prior orders.

As I have written before, judges appointed by Republican presidents tend to throw cases that might embarrass Republican presidents out of their court, as quickly as they can figure out how to do so. Federal judges appointed by Democratic presidents, fortunately, do not tend to cower when either Republican or Democratic presidents are involved. A judge ends up with a case like this through a random selection procedure; in this case, the CIA happened to draw a Judge it cannot intimidate, which makes it interesting.

More on Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, Who Issued the Videotapes Order

Judge Hellerstein was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1998. An editor of the Columbia Law Review during his law school years, he started his legal career in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the Army in 1959-1960. An experienced litigator with a prestigious New York City law firm, he is a highly-respected judge. He works hard, is fair, and is savvy.

He is also a nightmare for the CIA in a case like this, because on June 3, 2005 he ordered the release of four videos from Abu Ghraib, along with dozens of photographs - not withstanding an effort of the government to suppress this material from ever becoming public.

Judge Hellerstein appears to have no tolerance for torture. Unlike his former colleague and now-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who still is not clear that waterboarding is torture, one does not have the sense that Judge Hellerstein suffers from such confusion. While Judge Hellerstein is going to appropriately protect the sources and methods of the CIA, if any judge is going to get to the bottom of this destruction of these records quickly, this is the judge.

The Authoritarian Streak in the Conservative Movement

The following is excerpted from John Dean's new book, Conservatives without Conscience (Viking, 2006):

Frankly, when I started writing this book I had a difficult time accounting for what had become of conservatism or, for that matter, the Republican Party. I went down a number of dead-end streets looking for answers, before finally discovering a true explanation. My finding, simply stated, is the growing presence of conservative authoritarianism. Conservatism has noticeably evolved from its so-called modern phase (1950-94) into what might be called a postmodern period (1994 to the present), and in doing so it has regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots. Authoritarianism is not well understood and seldom discussed in the context of American government and politics, yet it now constitutes the prevailing thinking and behavior among conservatives.

Regrettably, empirical studies reveal, however, that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral. They are also often conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.

Although I have only recently learned the correct term for describing this type of behavior, and come to understand the implications of such authoritarian thinking, I was familiar with the personality type from my years in the Nixon White House. We had plenty of authoritarians in the Nixon administration, from the president on down. In fact, authoritarian thinking was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency. I had had little contact with my former colleagues, or with their new authoritarian friends and associates, until the early 1990s, when they decided to attack my wife and me in an effort to rewrite history at our expense. By then I had left public life for a very comfortable and private existence in the world of business, but they forced me back into the public square to defend myself and my wife from their false charges. In returning, I discovered how contemptible and dangerous their brand of "conservatism" had become, and how low they were prepared to stoop for their cause.

About 7:00 a.m. on Monday, May 6, 1991, I received a phone call that was both literally and figuratively a wake-up call, one that would dramatically change the political world as I thought I knew it. My last politics-related activity had been in 1982, when I wrote Lost Honor, a book about the consequences of Watergate during the decade that followed it. Since then I had focused exclusively on my work in merger and acquisition ventures, and I no longer had any interest in partisan politics. In fact, I had done everything I could to lower my public profile and regain my privacy by refusing to give press interviews. I became a true nonpartisan, sometimes voting for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats, always determined to select the best candidates for the job. I paid little attention to Washington affairs other than major events. I did maintain my relationships with old friends in Washington, including some still active at the highest levels of government and several who worked for Reagan and Bush I, but we seldom discussed politics too seriously. I discovered that I enjoyed life more outside of the political arena, and so I had no interest in returning to it.

When the phone rang that Monday morning, I assumed it was my wife, Maureen -- "Mo" to family and friends -- calling from Pennsylvania, where she had gone to care for my mother, who had recently suffered a stroke. I was instead greeted by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, and his producer Brian Ellis. Wallace quickly got to the reason for their call. "Have you heard about this new book about Bob Woodward?" he inquired referring to the Washington PostM's star reporter and best-selling author. "I'm talking about a book called Silent Coup: The Removal of a President, by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin." Wallace explained that <60 Minutes was working on a story about Silent Coup, which St. Martin's Press was going to publish in two weeks, and Time magazine was going to run an excerpt from the book. Wallace said the book dealt not only with Woodward but also "with you, sir, John Dean."

"How so?" I asked. I knew about the book because Colodny had called me several years earlier looking for dirt on Woodward, and I had told him I had none. Later he called back to ask me some questions about my testimony before the Senate Watergate committee. But Colodny had said little about how I related to his book. I had assumed his project had died.

"Do you know a woman by the name of Heidi Rikan?" Wallace asked.

"Sure, Heidi was a friend of Mo's. She died a few years ago. What does Heidi have to do with Silent Coup? " Heidi and Mo had been friends before we were married and was a bridesmaid at our wedding. Wallace ignored my question.

Employing his trademark confrontational tone, Wallace began throwing hard balls. "According to Silent Coup, Heidi was also known as Cathy Dieter, and this Heidi/Cathy person, as they call her in the book, had a connection to a call-girl ring back in 1971 and '72. In fact, I gather she was the madam of the operation. According to Silent Coup, this call-girl ring had a connection with the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate.

Apparently the DNC was providing customers for the call girls. The book says that your wife was the roommate of Cathy Dieter, and she seemingly knew all about this activity. In fact, according to Silent Coup, this call-girl operation was the reason for the break-ins at the Watergate."

I was, understandably, stunned. I had never heard or seen anything that would even hint at Heidi's being a call girl, and I could not imagine Mo's not telling me if she knew, or had any such suspicion. And I knew for certain that neither Heidi nor Mo had anything whatsoever to do with Watergate. My thoughts raced as Wallace continued with his questioning.

"Did you know an attorney in Washington by the name of Phillip Mackin Bailley?" he asked.

When I answered that I did not, he pressed. "Do you remember an incident while you were working at the White House, as counsel to the president, when an assistant United States attorney came to your office, a fellow named John Rudy, to discuss Phillip Bailley's involvement in prostitution, and you made a copy of Mr. Bailley's address book, which had been seized by the FBI?"

"I recall a couple of assistant United States attorneys coming to my office in connection with a newspaper story claiming that a lawyer, or a secretary, from the White House was allegedly connected with a call-girl ring. As I recall, we had trouble figuring out who, if anyone, at the White House was involved. But I never made a copy of an address book." My mind was searching, trying to recall events that had taken place almost two decades earlier.

Wallace now dropped another bomb. He told me that according to Silent Coup Mo's name was in Phillip Bailley's little black address book. He also said that Bailley had been indicted for violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking women across state lines for immoral pur-poses, specifically prostitution. Silent Coup claimed that my wife was listed in the address book as "Mo Biner," along with a code name of "Clout." Supposedly, Bailley's address book also contained the name of Cathy Dieter. Before I could digest this information, Wallace added more.

"According to Silent Coup, sir, you, John Dean, are the real mastermind of the Watergate break-ins, and you ordered these break-ins because you were apparently seeking sexual dirt on the Democrats, which you learned about from your then girlfriend, now wife, Maureen." When I failed to respond, because I was dumbfounded, Wallace asked, "Does this make sense to you?"

"No, no sense at all. It's pure bullshit. How could I have ordered the Watergate break-ins and kept it secret for the last twenty years?"

"Fair question," Wallace responded. He explained that the book claimed I arranged the break-ins through my secret relationship with former White House consultant E. Howard Hunt -- Hunt, who along with Gordon Liddy, had been convicted two decades earlier of plotting the Watergate break-ins.

"I recall meeting Hunt once in Chuck Colson's office. Hunt worked for Colson. I don't think I ever said anything more than 'hello' to Howard Hunt in all my years at the White House. The only other time I have spoken to him was long after Watergate, when we gave a few college lectures together. Anyone who says I directed Hunt to do anything is crazy." Still trying to sort out the various claims of Silent Coup, I asked, "Did you say this book has me ordering the break-ins because of a call-girl ring?"

Wallace said the manuscript was not clear about the first break-in. Indeed, he said it was all a bit unclear, but apparently they were saying that the second break-in was related to Bailley's address book and a desk in the DNC. "Are you saying that none of this makes any sense to you?" Wallace asked again.

"Mike, I'm astounded. This sounds like a sick joke."

"The authors and the publisher claim you were interviewed," Wallace said.

"Not about this stuff. I was never asked anything about Mo, or Heidi Rikan, nor was there any mention of call girls. I assure you I would remember."

Wallace wanted me to go on camera to deny the charges. I said I was willing, but I wanted to see the book so I could understand the basis of the charges. But 60 Minutes had signed a confidentiality agreement with the publisher, and was prohibited from providing any further information. When the conversation with Wallace ended I called Hays Gorey, a senior correspondent for Time magazine, who had not only covered Watergate, but, working with Mo, had co-authored Mo: A Woman's View of Watergate. Hays had known Heidi as well. He was aghast, and could not believe that Time was going to run such a flagrantly phony story without checking with the reporter who had covered Watergate for them. After a quick call to New York, he confirmed that the New York office had purchased the first serial rights to Silent Coup, and they were preparing both an excerpt and a news story.

Mo found the story laughable, and could not believe anyone would publish it. She had no information that Heidi had ever been involved with a call-girl ring, and did not believe it possible, because Heidi traveled constantly and was seldom in Washington. Mo had never heard of an attorney by the name of Phillip Mackin Bailley, and if her name was in his address book, it was not because she knew him.

By the time Mo returned home 60 Minutes had backed away from the book, because neither the authors nor the publisher could pro-vide information that confirmed the central charges. Phillip Mackin Bailley, the source of much of the information, was "not available." Notwithstanding 60 Minutes's rejection of the book, Time's editors were still proceeding. They asked Hays to interview us for our reaction, even though he had told them the story was untrue. Hays had called a number of men he knew who had worked at the DNC at the time the call-girl operation was said to be flourishing in 1971 and 1972. They all told him it was impossible that such activity could have existed without their knowing of it. One former DNC official told Hays that had there been such an operation he would have been a top customer. Traveling from Washington to California to interview us, Hays read the material in Silent Coup relating to the Deans, and could not understand why Time was treating it as a news story. Nor could I when he loaned me his copy of the book so I could see what was being said. The material in the book relating to the Deans ran about 180 pages, and as I skimmed these pages I could not find one that was not filled with false or misleading information. All the hard evidence (the information developed by government investigators and prosecutors) that conflicted with this invented story was simply omitted. I could find no real documentation for their charges. I did not understand how the authors and St. Martin's thought they could get away with their outrageous story without facing a lawsuit from us. Hays wondered the same.

We gave Hays a statement the next morning that made clear we were preparing for legal action. Hays gave us his telephone number in Salt Lake City, where he planned to stop to visit with family en route back to Washington. Several hours later we called him, because I had had another idea, and I asked if he thought it would be worth my effort to go directly to Henry Muller, Time's managing editor, to ask him to reconsider. Hays could not offer any encouragement. It was Friday evening in New York, and this issue of the magazine was heading for the printer. In addition, he confided that Time had paid fifty thousand dollars for the serial rights. But he gave me Muller's office number, and told me, "Only someone like Muller could pull a story at this late stage." I called Muller's office, and arranged to fax a letter. Rather than threatening legal action, I tried to appeal to Muller's journalistic good sense. They were reporting a story that 60 Minutes had investigated and rejected, and their principal Watergate reporter, Hays Gorey, had told them the story was baseless. Surprisingly, the effort worked. Within less than an hour of sending the letter, Hays called back. "You did it, Muller pulled the story. The whole thing. We're not going to even mention Silent Coup. I have only seen that happen once before in my thirty years with Time." Hays was ebullient, clearly proud that Time had done the right thing.

I decided to try again to persuade Tom McCormack, chairman and CEO of St. Martin's Press, to reconsider the publication of Silent Coup. McCormack had refused to talk with me earlier, so I faxed him a letter to let him know he was walking into a lawsuit. A day later we received McCormack's answer, when CBS's Good Morning America (GMA) called on Saturday morning to tell us that Colodny and Gettlin would be appearing Monday morning, May 21, 1991, to promote their newly published book and GMA wanted to give us a chance to respond. We faxed them the statement we had given Time. Clearly, a book tour was underway, but by pushing 60 Minutes and then Time, we had mortally wounded the book and destroyed the carefully planned launch, which might have given the story credibility. Now it would be difficult to treat Silent Coup as legitimate news.

Watching the authors on Good Morning America, we felt encouraged. Colodny, the older of the two, who looked to be in his early fifties, was a retired liquor salesman and conspiracy buff. Gettlin, who appeared to be in his forties, was a journalist. This was their first book. Both were tense. GMA's host, Charlie Gibson, an experienced journalist, was not buying the Silent Coup story relating to the Deans, so his questions focused on the material in the book related to Bob Woodward and Al Haig, which was as unfounded as the material relating to us. (Woodward was accused of CIA connections; Haig had allegedly plotted the "coup" of the title that had removed Nixon from office.) With St. Martin's publicity department pumping out information about their sensational new book, requests for responses and appearances became so frequent we had to put a message on the answering machine to handle the requests. Not wanting to do anything to attract additional publicity to the book, however, we declined all appearances and issued a statement explaining that the charges were false.

We watched the authors again on CNN's Larry King Live. Bob Beckel was the substitute host in Larry King's absence. Colodny claimed that he and Gettlin were "not making any charges against Maureen Dean." Yet I had made a note during my quick read of the book that they claimed that Mo's alleged "acquaintanceship with [Phillip Mackin] Bailley, and the true identity of her friend Heidi [Rikan]... [were] the keys to understanding all the events of the break-ins and cover-ups that we know under the omnibus label of Watergate." That was some "no charge." After a commercial break, well into the program, both Colodny and Gettlin simply disappeared without explanation, as if snatched from their seats by hooks. In their places were Howard Kurtz, a media reporter for the Washington Post, and Gordon Liddy, Watergate's most decorated felon. Beckel asked Liddy for his "theory" of why 60 Minutes and Time had "pulled" their stories on Silent Coup. Liddy said, "Well, I don't have to go for a theory with respect to those two things, because they are on the record." Liddy claimed none of the people charged by the book would appear on 60 Minutes. "They wanted to get John Dean, etcetera," Liddy claimed. "They wouldn't come on the program and face these two men. Time magazine just said, you know, the thing is so densely packed that it did not lend itself to being excerpted and they felt that they couldn't do it."

Liddy's remarks were untrue, for I had agreed to do 60 Minutes (as had Woodward and Haig) and I had a copy of the Time excerpt, not to mention my letter, which had killed it. Mike Wallace, who had obviously been watching the show, called in to correct Liddy's false characterizations. Wallace reported that he had read Silent Coup, and had interviewed Colodny and Gettlin. "And we intended to go, just as Time magazine intended to go. We checked, Gordon. I did talk to John Dean," he said. "We objected to the fact that the authors refused or declined to let the objects of their scrutiny, these three [Woodward, Haig, and Dean] in particular, see the book, read the book ahead of time, so that they could face the charges." As to the charge that I was the "mastermind" of Watergate, Wallace explained, "We could not, on our own, source the thing sufficiently to satisfy ourselves that it stood up as a 60 Minutes piece. That's why we didn't do the piece." Mo applauded when one of America's best-known journalists knocked down the book's central charge.

As a hard news story Silent Coup was now for certain dead and would undoubtedly have been headed for the remainder table, but St. Martin's had a lot of money tied up in it, and was determined to make it a best seller. Their plan was to sell the book to Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon's downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and John Dean were the villains, and randy Democrats had all but invited surveillance. Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy? Although we did not know it at the time, Liddy had been a behind-the-scenes collaborator with Colodny in developing, sourcing, and writing Silent Coup's version of the Deans' involvement in Watergate. In fact, without Liddy's sup-port St. Martin's might well have abandoned the project, for neither Colodny nor Gettlin had actually written it. St. Martin's had hired a freelancer, Tom Shachtman, to assemble a story based on material that Liddy and other right-wingers had helped Colodny assemble. Schactman himself was contractually immunized from any legal liability, and shortly before Silent Coup's publication, St. Martin's had doubled its insurance coverage for defamation and worked out a plan for Liddy, who was already a St. Martin's author, to lead a charge to the best-seller list. To compensate Liddy for his efforts, and to give him an excuse to be out promoting, St. Martin's reissued a paperback edition of his autobiography, Will, with a new postscript that embraced Silent Coup as the definitive account on Watergate. In that material Liddy claimed, without any explanation, that I had duped him in "an exercise in sleight-of-hand worthy of The Amazing Randi himself," and that he had not truly understood Watergate until Colodny explained to him what had purportedly transpired, by telling him of Phillip Bailley's story. According to this revised accounting of history, Liddy's former partner-in-crime Howard Hunt was merely my pawn, working secretly for me unbeknownst to Liddy. (And unbeknownst to Howard Hunt as well, for he, too, denied the Silent Coup account.)

Liddy's involvement in this specious attack did not surprise me. He had once planned to kill both Howard Hunt and me , he had said in Will, but his orders to do so had never come -- although he did not say who he expected would send them. "Howard Hunt had become an informer," he wrote, and when Hunt agreed to testify he became "a betrayer of his friends, and to me there is nothing lower on earth....Hunt deserved to die." About me, Liddy wrote that the "difference between Hunt and Dean is the difference between a POW who breaks under torture and aids the enemy, and Judas Iscariot." The subtext of Liddy's statement is that the U.S. government had become his enemy and that Richard Nixon had become something of a Christ figure for him. Attacking Howard Hunt and me was consistent with both his conservative politics and his personality. He sought to resurrect Nixon for conservatives and blame others for his destroyed presidency. His attacks on Mo, however, were inexplicable. It did not strike me as consistent with his macho perception of himself to attack a noncombatant woman, yet he traveled the country repeating the false story that Phillip Bailley had told him. Clearly, Silent Coup had come at a perfect time for Liddy. Since the first publication of Will in 1980 he had made a living by putting his dysfunctional personality on display. By the early nineties speaking engagements were becoming less frequent for him, and his business ventures, including several novels, were unsuccessful. Silent Coup put him back in the spotlight, where he loved to be -- publicly misbehaving.

My former colleague Chuck Colson's appearance on national tele-vision to endorse Silent Coup truly surprised me and stunned Mo, who was deeply hurt by his gratuitous attack. Chuck and I had crossed swords at the Nixon White House only once, and even then we had not communicated directly. I had had virtually nothing to do with his office, or its nefarious activities, except for the time Chuck had wanted to firebomb and burglarize the Brookings Institution, convinced that this Washington think tank had copies of documents the president wanted. When I learned of his insane plan I flew to California (where the president and senior staff were staying at the Western White House) to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Chuck and myself. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson's scheme. As a result, over the next several months I was told nothing about Colson's shenanigans, such as his financing the infamous burglary by Liddy and Hunt of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office after Ellsberg released the so-called Pentagon Papers, which was a precursor to the later Watergate break-ins.

After I eventually broke rank with the Nixon White House, Colson had set about trying to destroy me for telling the truth, though he backed off after purportedly finding God. He also became rather busy with his own problems. On March 1, 1974, Colson was indicted for his role in the Watergate cover-up, and six days later he was indicted for his involvement in the conspiracy to break into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Chuck, no doubt, sensed even more problems to come, because the Watergate Special Prosecution Force was considering charging him with both perjury and subornation of perjury. He was facing a lot of jail time. However, the prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to a single -- and given what he was facing, innocuous -- charge in exchange for his cooperation, although in the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the prosecutors could not vouch for his honesty.

Chuck and I had agreed to let bygones be bygones during the Watergate cover-up trial when we found ourselves only down the hall from each other, under the federal Witness Protection Program, at the Fort Holabird safe house in Maryland, just outside Washington. Until Colson started promoting Silent Coup I had taken him as a man of his word, and we had even continued to visit from time to time after Watergate was behind us. When I saw Colson promote Silent Coup on Crossfire, I was still unaware of his earlier prepublication discussions with Colodny about this invented history. (Colodny had illegally tape-recorded all of his telephone conversations.) Why, of all people, would Chuck Colson promote Silent Coup's conspicuously phony account of Watergate? Where was his conscience? How could he call himself a Christian? I promised myself I would find answers to these questions, because I did not understand what was compelling his behavior.

The promotion campaign to sell the book to conservatives worked, thanks to Liddy's nationwide tour, in which he appeared on countless right-wing talk-radio shows. By July 7, 1991, Silent Coup had peaked at number three on the New York Times best-seller list. On July 12, 1991, our answering machine handled a very early call. When Mo checked the message I heard her shriek, and ran to find her standing beside the answering machine sobbing and shaking. "What is it?" I asked but she could not speak, as tears poured from her eyes. As I held her I could feel every bone in her body trembling. "What is it?" I asked again. "Liddy. He's called our house." Before Mo could explain, the phone began ringing and I answered.

"Is this John Dean?" an unfamiliar voice asked.

"Yes, it is. Who's this?"

"Wow, that's cool. This is really John Dean?"

"Yes. Who is this, please?"

"Oh, I'm nobody. I was just listening to the radio and Gordon Liddy was on, and he gave out your telephone number, so I thought I'd try it. Talk to you later. Bye."

Immediately the phone rang again, this time it was a collect call, which I refused. To prevent further nuisance calls I used a technique that makes all our phone lines busy. This diverted Mo's attention and calmed her, and she now asked me to listen to Liddy's message, so I played it.

A smug-sounding voice said, "This is G. Gordon Liddy, calling you from the Merle Pollis Show. John, you have..." "W-E-R-E Cleveland, let's get our call letters in," the host interrupted. Liddy then continued, "...you have promised that you will sue me and Len Colodny and Bob Gettlin. Let's get this suit started, John. We want to get you on the stand, under oath, yet again....Come on, John. I'm publicly challenging you to make good on your promise to sue." The host added, "John, this is Merle Pollis, the host of the program. Would you say hello to Maureen, for me? I said she was the prettiest of the Watergate people, next to G. Gordon Liddy. I hope she's still just as pretty. I, ah, this, this new book, however, reveals some things about Maureen that irk me. I didn't want to think of her in that way, and it makes me very sad, and it also makes me feel, well, never mind. Thanks, John."

Liddy would get his lawsuit, but on our terms, not his. Rather than give him the publicity he desperately wanted, we spent the next eight months collecting evidence and preparing the case. For eight years our lawsuit made its way through the federal courts, and St. Martin's tried every possible ploy to prevent its going to trial. Had we taken the case to trial, Phillip Mackin Bailley, the key source for the story about the purported call-girl ring, might rank as the worst possible source of information in the annals of defamation law. Bailley had been in and out of mental institutions throughout his adult life. When we deposed him, Bailley's attorney arranged for a psychiatrist to testify under oath that his client's mental condition made him unable to distinguish fact from fiction. While St. Martin's and the other defendants were spending over $14 million of insurance company money trying to make us go away, it eventually became clear to them that we were prepared to go whatever distance necessary to make fools of them all, and that we had the evidence to do it.

By the fall of 1998 we had also accomplished our underlying goal of gathering the information necessary to show that Silent Coup was bogus history. Ultimately, it seems, they had hoped to win the lawsuit by simply outspending us, but when that strategy failed, they sought a settlement. Neither Colodny nor Liddy wanted to settle, however. Colodny had somehow used a rider on his homeowner's policy to get the insurance company to pay for his defense in the litigation, though ultimately his insurer forced him to settle. Liddy, on the other hand, had nothing at risk, since all of his assets were in his wife's name and St. Martin's was paying for his attorney. After we settled with St. Martin's and Colodny, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan put an end to the litigation. While the final settlement agreement prohibits me from discussing its terms, I can say the Deans were satisfied.

Why Bush Needs a Lawyer

Recently, the White House acknowledged that President Bush is talking with, and considering hiring, a non-government attorney, James E. Sharp. Sharp is being consulted, and may be retained, regarding the current grand jury investigation of the leak revealing the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA covert operative.

(Plame is the wife of Bush critic and former ambassador Joe Wilson; I discussed the leak itself in a prior column, and then discussed further developments in the investigation in a follow-up column.)

This action by Bush is a rather stunning and extraordinary development. The President of the United States is potentially hiring a private criminal defense lawyer. Unsurprisingly, the White House is doing all it can to bury the story, providing precious little detail or context for the President's action.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush explained his action by saying, "This is a criminal matter. It's a serious matter," but he gave no further specifics. White House officials, too, would not say exactly what prompted Bush to seek the outside advice, or whether he had been asked to appear before the grand jury.

Nonetheless, Bush's action, in itself, says a great deal. In this column, I will analyze what its implications may be.

The Valerie Plame Grand Jury Investigation

The Plame investigation took a quantum leap in December 2003, when Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself. Ashcroft's deputy appointed a special counsel, who has powers and authority tantamount to those of the attorney general himself. That means, in practice, that Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney from Chicago, does not report to the Justice Department regarding his investigation. (In this sense, Fitzgerald's position is similar to that of an Independent Counsel under the now-defunct independent counsel statute.)

Those familiar with Fitzgerald's inquiry tell me that the investigative team of attorneys is principally from his office in Chicago, and that they do not really know their way around the workings of Washington. This has resulted in an investigation that is being handled Chicago-style -- not D.C. -- style. That's significant because in Washington, there is more of a courtesy and protocol toward power than exists in the Windy City.

The Fitzgerald investigation has not made friends with the Washington press corps, many of who are being subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Those journalists with whom I have spoken say they are not willing before any grand jury to reveal their sources. So this issue is headed toward a showdown. And under existing law, a journalist cannot refuse to provide information to a grand jury.

Nor, based on the few existing precedents, can a sitting president refuse to give testimony to a grand jury. And that appears to be the broad, underlying reason Bush is talking with Washington attorney James Sharp.

Reasons the Plame Grand Jury May Want Bush's Testimony

Why might the grand jury wish to hear Bush's testimony? Most of the possible answers are not favorable for Bush.

There is, of course, one totally benign way to view the situation. "It is hard for me to imagine that Pat Fitzgerald is going to be going aggressively after the president," one Washington lawyer told the Los Angeles Times. "My guess is that he feels a need to conduct an interview because he needs to be in a position to say, 'I have done everything that could be done.'" The lawyer added, "If [Fitzgerald] closes the case without an indictment and has not interviewed the president, he is going to be criticized."

But from what I have learned from those who have been quizzed by the Fitzgerald investigators it seems unlikely that they are interviewing the President merely as a matter of completeness, or in order to be able to defend their actions in front of the public. Asking a President to testify -- or even be interviewed -- remains a serious, sensitive and rare occasion. It is not done lightly. Doing so raises separation of powers concerns that continue to worry many.

Instead, it seems the investigators are seeking to connect up with, and then speak with, persons who have links to and from the leaked information - and those persons, it seems, probably include the President. (I should stress, however, that I do not have access to grand jury testimony, and that grand jury proceedings are secret. But the facts that are properly public do allow some inference and commentary about what likely is occurring in the grand jury.)

Undoubtedly, those from the White House have been asked if they spoke with the president about the leak. It appears that one or more of them may indeed have done so.

If so -- and if the person revealed the leaker's identity to the President, or if the President decided he preferred not to know the leaker's identity, then this fact could conflict with Bush's remarkably broad public statements on the issue. He has said that he did not know of "anybody in [his] administration who leaked classified information." He has also said that he wanted "to know the truth" about this leak.

If Bush is called before the grand jury, it is likely because Fitzgerald believes that he knows much more about this leak than he has stated publicly.

Perhaps Bush may have knowledge not only of the leaker, but also of efforts to make this issue go away -- if indeed there have been any. It is remarkably easy to obstruct justice, and this matter has been under various phases of an investigation by the Justice Department since it was referred by the CIA last summer.

It seems very possible the leaker -- or leakers, for two government sources were initially cited by columnist Robert Novak -- may have panicked, covered up his (or their) illegality, and in doing so, committed further crimes. If so, did the President hear of it? Was he willfully blind? Was he himself the victim of a cover-up by underlings? The grand jury may be interested in any or all of these possibilities.

Bush Needs An Outside Attorney To Maintain Attorney-Client Privilege

Readers may wonder, why is Bush going to an outside counsel, when numerous government attorneys are available to him -- for instance, in the White House Counsel's Office?

The answer is that the President has likely been told it would be risky to talk to his White House lawyers, particularly if he knows more than he claims publicly.

Ironically, it was the fair-haired Republican stalwart Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who decimated the attorney-client privilege for government lawyers and their clients -- which, to paraphrase the authority Wigmore, applies when legal advice of any kind is sought by a client from a professional legal adviser, where the advice is sought in confidence.

The reason the privilege was created was to insure open and candid discussion between a lawyer and his or her client. It traditionally applied in both civil and criminal situations for government lawyers, just as it did for non-government lawyers. It applied to written records of communications, such as attorney's notes, as well as to the communications themselves.

But Starr tried to thwart that tradition in two different cases, before two federal appeals courts. There, he contended that there should be no such privilege in criminal cases involving government lawyers.

In the first case, In re Grand Jury Subpoenas Duces Tecum, former First Lady Hillary Clinton had spoken with her private counsel in the presence of White House counsel (who had made notes of the conversation). Starr wanted the notes. Hillary Clinton claimed the privilege.

A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed with Starr. The court held that a grand jury was entitled to the information. It also held that government officials -- even when serving as attorneys -- had a special obligation to provide incriminating information in their possession.

In the second case, In re Lindsey, Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey refused to testify about his knowledge of President Clinton's relationship to Monica Lewinsky, based on attorney-client privilege. Starr sought to compel Lindsey's testimony, and he won again.

This time, Starr persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to follow the Eighth Circuit. The court ruled that exposure of wrongdoing by government lawyers fostered democracy, as "openness in government has always been thought crucial to ensuring that the people remain in control of their government."

Based on these precedents, President Bush has almost certainly been told that the only way he can discuss his potential testimony with a lawyer is by hiring one outside the government.

What Might a Private Attorney Advise Bush to Do?

It is possible that Bush is consulting Sharp only out of an excess of caution -- despite the fact that he knows nothing of the leak, or of any possible cover-up of the leak. But that's not likely.

On this subject, I spoke with an experienced former federal prosecutor who works in Washington, specializing in white-collar criminal defense (but who does not know Sharp). That attorney told me that he is baffled by Bush's move -- unless Bush has knowledge of the leak. "It would not seem that the President needs to consult personal counsel, thereby preserving the attorney-client privilege, if he has no knowledge about the leak," he told me.

What advice might Bush get from a private defense counsel? The lawyer I consulted opined that, "If he does have knowledge about the leak and does not plan to disclose it, the only good legal advice would be to take the Fifth, rather than lie. The political fallout is a separate issue."

I raised the issue of whether the President might be able to invoke executive privilege as to this information. But the attorney I consulted -- who is well versed in this area of law -- opined that "Neither 'outing' Plame, nor covering for the perpetrators would seem to fall within the scope of any executive privilege that I am aware of."

That may not stop Bush from trying to invoke executive privilege, however -- or at least from talking to his attorney about the option. As I have discussed in one of my prior columns, Vice President Dick Cheney has tried to avoid invoking it in implausible circumstances -- in the case that is now before the U.S .Supreme Court. Rather he claims he is beyond the need for the privilege, and simply cannot be sued.

Suffice it to say that whatever the meaning of Bush's decision to talk with private counsel about the Valerie Plame leak, the matter has taken a more ominous turn with Bush's action. It has only become more portentous because now Dick Cheney has also hired a lawyer for himself, suggesting both men may have known more than they let on. Clearly, the investigation is heading toward a culmination of some sort. And it should be interesting.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the President.

The Case for Impeachment

[Editor's Note: John Dean was recently interviewed on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.]

President George W. Bush has got a very serious problem. Before asking Congress for a Joint Resolution authorizing the use of American military forces in Iraq, he made a number of unequivocal statements about the reason the United States needed to pursue the most radical actions any nation can undertake -- acts of war against another nation.

Now it is clear that many of his statements appear to be false. In the past, Bush's White House has been very good at sweeping ugly issues like this under the carpet, and out of sight. But it is not clear that they will be able to make the question of what happened to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) go away -- unless, perhaps, they start another war.

That seems unlikely. Until the questions surrounding the Iraqi war are answered, Congress and the public may strongly resist more of President Bush's warmaking.

Presidential statements, particularly on matters of national security, are held to an expectation of the highest standard of truthfulness. A president cannot stretch, twist or distort facts and get away with it. President Lyndon Johnson's distortions of the truth about Vietnam forced him to stand down from reelection. President Richard Nixon's false statements about Watergate forced his resignation.

Frankly, I hope the WMDs are found, for it will end the matter. Clearly, the story of the missing WMDs is far from over. And it is too early, of course, to draw conclusions. But it is not too early to explore the relevant issues.

President Bush's Statements On Iraq's Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Readers may not recall exactly what President Bush said about weapons of mass destruction; I certainly didn't. Thus, I have compiled these statements below. In reviewing them, I saw that he had, indeed, been as explicit and declarative as I had recalled.

Bush's statements, in chronological order, were:

"Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons."
-- United Nations Address, September 12, 2002

"Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons."

"We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have."
-- Radio Address, October 5, 2002

"The Iraqi regime . . . possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons."

"We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas."

"We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States."

"The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his "nuclear mujahideen" -- his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons."
-- Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, October 7, 2002

"Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent."
-- State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
-- Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003

Should The President Get The Benefit Of The Doubt?

When these statements were made, Bush's let-me-mince-no-words posture was convincing to many Americans. Yet much of the rest of the world, and many other Americans, doubted them.

As Bush's veracity was being debated at the United Nations, it was also being debated on campuses -- including those where I happened to be lecturing at the time.

On several occasions, students asked me the following question: Should they believe the President of the United States? My answer was that they should give the President the benefit of the doubt, for several reasons deriving from the usual procedures that have operated in every modern White House and that, I assumed, had to be operating in the Bush White House, too.

First, I assured the students that these statements had all been carefully considered and crafted. Presidential statements are the result of a process, not a moment's thought. White House speechwriters process raw information, and their statements are passed on to senior aides who have both substantive knowledge and political insights. And this all occurs before the statement ever reaches the President for his own review and possible revision.

Second, I explained that -- at least in every White House and administration with which I was familiar, from Truman to Clinton -- statements with national security implications were the most carefully considered of all. The White House is aware that, in making these statements, the President is speaking not only to the nation, but also to the world.

Third, I pointed out to the students, these statements are typically corrected rapidly if they are later found to be false. And in this case, far from backpedaling from the President's more extreme claims, Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer had actually, at times, been even more emphatic than the President had. For example, on January 9, 2003, Fleischer stated, during his press briefing, "We know for a fact that there are weapons there."

In addition, others in the Administration were similarly quick to back the President up, in some cases with even more unequivocal statements. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly claimed that Saddam had WMDs -- and even went so far as to claim he knew "where they are; they're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."

Finally, I explained to the students that the political risk was so great that, to me, it was inconceivable that Bush would make these statements if he didn't have damn solid intelligence to back him up. Presidents do not stick their necks out only to have them chopped off by political opponents on an issue as important as this, and if there was any doubt, I suggested, Bush's political advisers would be telling him to hedge. Rather than stating a matter as fact, he would be say: "I have been advised," or "Our intelligence reports strongly suggest," or some such similar hedge. But Bush had not done so.

So what are we now to conclude if Bush's statements are found, indeed, to be as grossly inaccurate as they currently appear to have been?
After all, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and given Bush's statements, they should not have been very hard to find -- for they existed in large quantities, "thousands of tons" of chemical weapons alone. Moreover, according to the statements, telltale facilities, groups of scientists who could testify, and production equipment also existed.

So where is all that? And how can we reconcile the White House's unequivocal statements with the fact that they may not exist?

There are two main possibilities. One that something is seriously wrong within the Bush White House's national security operations. That seems difficult to believe. The other is that the President has deliberately misled the nation, and the world.

A Desperate Search For WMDs Has So Far Yielded Little, If Any, Fruit

Even before formally declaring war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the President had dispatched American military special forces into Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction, which he knew would provide the primary justification for Operation Freedom. None were found.

Throughout Operation Freedom's penetration of Iraq and drive toward Baghdad, the search for WMDs continued. None were found.

As the coalition forces gained control of Iraqi cities and countryside, special search teams were dispatched to look for WMDs. None were found.

During the past two and a half months, according to reliable news reports, military patrols have visited over 300 suspected WMD sites throughout Iraq. None of the prohibited weapons were found there.

British and American Press Reaction to the Missing WMDs

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is also under serious attack in England, which he dragged into the war unwillingly, based on the missing WMDs. In Britain, the missing WMDs are being treated as scandalous; so far, the reaction in the U.S. has been milder.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has taken Bush sharply to task, asserting that it is "long past time for this administration to be held accountable." "The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat," Krugman argued. "If that claim was fraudulent," he continued, "the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history -- worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra." But most media outlets have reserved judgment as the search for WMDs in Iraq continues.

Still, signs do not look good. Last week, the Pentagon announced it was shifting its search from looking for WMD sites, to looking for people who can provide leads as to where the missing WMDs might be.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, while offering no new evidence, assured Congress that WMDs will indeed be found. And he advised that a new unit called the Iraq Survey Group, composed of some 1400 experts and technicians from around the world, is being deployed to assist in the searching.

But, as Time Magazine reported, the leads are running out. According to Time, the Marine general in charge explained that "[w]e've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad," and remarked flatly, "They're simply not there."

Perhaps most troubling, the President has failed to provide any explanation of how he could have made his very specific statements, yet now be unable to back them up with supporting evidence. Was there an Iraqi informant thought to be reliable, who turned out not to be? Were satellite photos innocently, if negligently misinterpreted? Or was his evidence not as solid as he led the world to believe?

The absence of any explanation for the gap between the statements and reality only increases the sense that the President's misstatements may actually have been intentional lies.

Investigating The Iraqi War Intelligence Reports

Even now, while the jury is still out as to whether intentional misconduct occurred, the President has a serious credibility problem. Newsweek Magazine posed the key questions: "If America has entered a new age of pre-emption -- when it must strike first because it cannot afford to find out later if terrorists possess nuclear or biological weapons -- exact intelligence is critical. How will the United States take out a mad despot or a nuclear bomb hidden in a cave if the CIA can't say for sure where they are? And how will Bush be able to maintain support at home and abroad?"

In an apparent attempt to bolster the President's credibility, and his own, Secretary Rumsfeld himself has now called for a Defense Department investigation into what went wrong with the pre-war intelligence. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd finds this effort about on par with O. J.'s looking for his wife's killer. But there may be a difference: Unless the members of Administration can find someone else to blame -- informants, surveillance technology, lower-level personnel, you name it -- they may not escape fault themselves.

Congressional committees are also looking into the pre-war intelligence collection and evaluation. Senator John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee would jointly investigate the situation. And the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence plans an investigation.

These investigations are certainly appropriate, for there is potent evidence of either a colossal intelligence failure or misconduct -- and either would be a serious problem. When the best case scenario seems to be mere incompetence, investigations certainly need to be made.

Senator Bob Graham -- a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- told CNN's Aaron Brown, that while he still hopes they find WMDs or at least evidence thereof, he has also contemplated three other possible alternative scenarios:

One is that [the WMDs] were spirited out of Iraq, which maybe is the worst of all possibilities, because now the very thing that we were trying to avoid, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, could be in the hands of dozens of groups. Second, that we had bad intelligence. Or third, that the intelligence was satisfactory but that it was manipulated, so as just to present to the American people and to the world those things that made the case for the necessity of war against Iraq.

Senator Graham seems to believe there is a serious chance that it is the final scenario that reflects reality. Indeed, Graham told CNN "there's been a pattern of manipulation by this administration."

Graham has good reason to complain. According to the New York Times, he was one of the few members of the Senate who saw the national intelligence estimate that was the basis for Bush's decisions. After reviewing it, Senator Graham requested that the Bush Administration declassify the information before the Senate voted on the Administration's resolution requesting use of the military in Iraq.

But rather than do so, CIA Director Tenet merely sent Graham a letter discussing the findings. Graham then complained that Tenet's letter only addressed "findings that supported the administration's position on Iraq," and ignored information that raised questions about intelligence. In short, Graham suggested that the Administration, by cherrypicking only evidence to its own liking, had manipulated the information to support its conclusion.

Recent statements by one of the high-level officials privy to the decision-making process that led to the Iraqi war also strongly suggests manipulation, if not misuse of the intelligence agencies. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, during an interview with Sam Tannenhaus of Vanity Fair magazine, said: "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason."

Worse than Watergate? A Potential Huge Scandal If WMDs Are Still Missing

Krugman is right to suggest a possible comparison to Watergate. In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.

As I remarked in an earlier column, this Administration may be due for a scandal. While Bush narrowly escaped being dragged into Enron, it was not, in any event, his doing. But the war in Iraq is all Bush's doing, and it is appropriate that he be held accountable.

To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."

It's important to recall that when Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power.

Nixon claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies for his political purposes were in the interest of national security. The same kind of thinking might lead a President to manipulate and misuse national security agencies or their intelligence to create a phony reason to lead the nation into a politically desirable war. Let us hope that is not the case.

John Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former Counsel to the President of the United States.
BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.