(State Representative) Lary (Swoboda): If you could choose to be one or the other would it be Bob Haldeman or John Ehrlichman?
Gregory (Humphrey): Neither. I would be John Dean.
That is how Lary, a chapter from my book Walking Up The Ramp begins.
As John Dean started his presentation today the lady introducing him had a typical sized microphone that she was to hand over for his use. Dean grinned and said he had one attached to his jacket, and “my voice seems to be able to be picked up by small microphones.”
It seems I have always been fascinated with Richard Nixon and the times in which he lived. As a young kid I recall the time Nixon made his famous “I am not a crook” statement. The night he told the nation of his decision to resign to all the years that followed with books, and travels as an elderly statesman left me with even more reason to research and fathom the deeper complexities of a most intriguing public figure. Nixon was as close to a Shakespearian character in the Oval Office as ever will be found.
So once I found out that John Dean was speaking in Madison it took me only a short time to rearrange my schedule. Dean was White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon from July 1970 until April 1973. At one point the FBI even labeled him as the “master manipulator of the cover-up.” Somehow that title has always seemed to me to have a Machiavellian charm to it, though I would be the first to say the actions that were undertaken by many in the Nixon Administration ran counter to common sense and decency.
Dean would be found guilty of a single felony of obstructing justice. But his role in assisting the prosecution, and trying to make things right while serving in his White House job has allowed history to judge him with more charity.
Over the years Dean has reclaimed his name by authoring many books, and speaking out on the issues of the day. He is often most pointed in his remarks about the wayward nature of Republicans. On Friday afternoon to a packed hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus Dean made it clear what the ethical lines lawyers need to be mindful of when doing their work.
Recounting Watergate to an audience that was largely older and informed made for some of the events in the mid-1970’s seem almost a comedy routine. If it all had not been so serious it might have made for a slap-stick movie.
Using a power-point style of presentation Dean showed a picture of the desk in the Watergate complex. It was when he said this was the sight where the burglars were crouched while wearing suits and plastic gloves that made the audience break into laughter. The fact they had large amounts of cash on them, and tell-tale signs that led them to people who worked in, or were connected with the White House, made it seem even more illogical. No matter how many times the story is told it still is absurd.
No one could hold back when Gordon Liddy was referred to as someone “not up to the Maxwell Smart test.” Liddy is, in my view, the most twisted mind that was a part of the fiasco.
But it was the fact that at least 21 lawyers were on the wrong side of the law in the Nixon Watergate mess that came to the heart of the message in Dean’s speech. The reason for the high numbers of otherwise smart men being pulled so far astray, as Dean noted, came down to incompetence, arrogance of the law, and too much loyalty to President Nixon.
At the end of the presentation I walked up to Dean and told him of the back-and-forth that State Representative Lary Swoboda and I use to have about Nixon and his time in politics. I told Dean briefly how he made a portion of my book, and then opened to the page where he leads off a chapter, and asked for his signature.
It makes for another fond memory.