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June 20, 2009

John Dean Slams "Revisionists" and Nixon Foundation in Talk at Library

However, 1989 Interview Tape Available Here Provides New Details

In a speech at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum on June 17, 2009 -- the 37th anniversary of the Watergate break-in that ultimately led to the resignation of the 37th president -- Dean struck back at the "revisionists," "apologists," and Nixon Foundation members who were critical of his appearance during which he promoted the re-release of his 1970s memoir, Blind Ambition. nixontapes.org has obtained a copy of Dean's address and excerpts of it appear below.

nixontapes.org has also obtained a copy of a January 5, 1989 interview between John Dean and Len Colodny, co-author of Silent Coup, from the Hillsborough County (FL) State Attorney's Office. Dean, in his Nixon Library speech, referenced the tape, a copy of which was made by the Attorney's Office during the discovery phase of Dean vs. St. Martin's Press, et al that was contemporaneously furnished to Dean. Both of these recordings are made available here for the first time, without their being editorialized, so that visitors to this site can make up their own minds about these matters of controversy that appeared in February on the front page and editorial pages of the New York Times

Before Dean even uttered his first word at the Nixon Library, there was some degree of controversy surrounding the invitation itself. After all, the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has been operated by the National Archives and Records Administration for less than two years. Before July 11, 2007, the library had been operated by the private Nixon Foundation. Among the several write-ups in the national media that touched on this matter, one quoted a former Nixon aide as saying that the Dean invitation was in poor taste. "It's like having Monica Lewinsky speak at the Clinton library on the anniversary of President Clinton's impeachment." Dean certainly came ready to defend himself. In his Library speech, he struck back at the Nixon Foundation both at the beginning of his address (mp3, 601k), as well as during the question and answer session (mp3, 596k).

However, the controversy over Dean's invitation goes beyond his role in the Watergate aftermath as whistleblower-in-chief, which helped to cut short Nixon's presidency. The controversy also extends to the fact that Dean used the appearance at the Library to launch the new edition of his memoir. Dean stated in his speech that he wanted to re-release his book to counter the "revisionists" (mp3, 986k). In a 1989 interview between Dean and Len Colodny, Dean explained that he was a "target" (mp3, 771k) of the revisionists and acknowledged contradictions between his original memoir and his 1973 Watergate testimony during the Congressional Watergate hearings. On at least one occasion, Dean even blamed his ghost writer, respected historian Taylor Branch, for such oversights. Branch has not publicly commented on the matter, and it does not appear that Dean re-wrote any other portions of his re-released memoir.

In the earlier Dean-Colodny interview, Dean admitted that he did not even review his testimony (mp3, 405k) before writing his memoir, despite stating the opposite in his author's note. When Colodny questioned Dean on additional details included in his memoir that did not appear in Dean's Watergate testimony, Dean blamed his editors at Simon and Schuster (mp3, 516k), the publisher of the original edition of Blind Ambition. More generally, Dean explained to Colodny that he simply did not remember certain details related to Watergate (mp3, 593k), and therefore was not able to reconstruct certain events after the fact.

After Dean claimed that his editors at Simon and Schuster were responsible for inserting false or exaggerated material in his memoir Blind Ambition, Colodny did what anyone wanting to get to the bottom of this controversy would do. He called Dean's editor at Simon and Schuster, the well-respected Alice Mayhew. In a never before heard tape of the conversation between Colodny and Mayhew, Colodny quoted Dean's claim verbatim that his editors got "excited" and inserted false or exaggerated material in his manuscript. Mayhew responded vehemently: "that's a lie. L-I-E, that is spelled. L-I-E."

(Simon and Schuster did not publish the new edition of Dean's book. Dean instead published with Polimedia, which states it is "now accepting submissions for 2010" on subjects including "--travel or local interest guides for San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Palm Springs area, non-fiction serials, i.e. law enforcement, emergency services, and border patrol--")

During his speech at the Library, Dean explained at some length how he believes the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee located at the Watergate came to pass (mp3, 1.1m). However, Dean provided a greater level of detail (mp3, 294k) in his 1989 interview with Colodny, and while Dean did not address his own role in the break-in during his talk at the Library, he did in the interview with Colodny (mp3, 2.0m). Of course, in 1973, John Dean was captured on the Nixon tapes as saying Watergate started as "an instruction to me from Bob Haldeman" (mp3, 278k). Dean also stated to Colodny that in the busy climate of the White House Counsel's office, he may have inadvertently approved an action that led to the break-in (mp3, 568k). In fact, Dean repeated this point on more than one occasion during the interview (mp3, 667k). After the break-in occurred and Dean was called back to Washington from an overseas trip in the Philippines, Dean stated to a skeptical Colodny that he was not involved (mp3, 1.5m).

Whether or not these details ever get untangled, if indeed there is anything to untangle, is anyone's guess. However, from a historian's perspective, one must make at least a minor objection to one of the points from Dean's Library talk. After noting that "the history on this event [Watergate] is well known" (mp3, 113k) Dean also stated that "there are no mysteries left about Watergate" (mp3, 249k). Surely, an open-minded historian would never conclude--about this or any other subject--that we have nothing left to learn, or that there will never be new revelations or records that help to re-shape our understanding about a person, place, or event. 

In the case of Watergate, while Dean is correct in saying there is an overwhelming amount of evidence related to the break-in, the cover-up, and other "Abuses of Government Power," a number of key records remain unavailable, even in 2009, which may or may not alter our understanding. For example, the personal papers of key figures have never been opened to researchers and some court records related to the break-in have been sealed "forever," or in at least one case have gone missing. Additionally, there have been records that have been destroyed, either inadvertently or intentionally. Hopefully future Nixon tapes releases will help us to understand how Watergate over time affected the daily ability of the Nixon White House to function and provide a window into the broader context of the time.

Dean certainly kept his audience at the Library entertained, and pointed to the future. He suggested that one day someone should compile all of the Nixon tape conversations between him and President Nixon (mp3, 80k). To that, Mr. Dean, I would respond someone is in fact working on that.

To listen to the entire Dean-Colodny interview from January 5, 1989, click here. (mp3, 46.3m)

 

 

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