A new book on the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon alleges that White House counsel John Dean ordered the infamous Watergate break-in in 1972, a charge Dean strongly rejected.
James Rosen, a Fox News Channel correspondent in Washington, made the charge based on interviews and an exhaustive review of documents for “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate.”
The biography is being released this week about Nixon's attorney general, a central Watergate figure.
Dean called Rosen's assertion “pathetic.”
The Watergate scandal began with the bungled election-year break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington on June 17, 1972. The aim was to wiretap the telephones.
Initially dismissed by the White House as a “third-rate burglary,” the scandal was slow in evolving and had no impact on the outcome of the 1972 election — Nixon easily defeated Democratic Sen. George McGovern to win a second term.
But by 1974, investigators had traced Watergate and various other political scandals back to the White House, and Nixon was forced to resign on August 9, 1974.
Dean was most famous for telling Nixon in a taped Oval Office conversation in 1973 that Watergate was “a cancer growing on the presidency.”
Though convicted of several Watergate-related felonies, he has been widely viewed as somewhat of a sympathetic figure in the case because he became a key witness for the prosecution, thus reducing his prison time.
‘Initiated by Dean’
Rosen quoted from a 1990 interview from another central Watergate figure, Jeb Magruder, that “the first plan that we got had been initiated by Dean.”
To help build his case, Rosen quoted from a statement that Magruder made in a legal deposition in 1995 about “Gemstone,” Watergate planner G. Gordon Liddy’s code-name for the burglary:
“Question: ‘Is it true that John Dean was one of the people in the White House that was pushing for the Gemstone plan?’
“Question: ‘... Is it, in fact, truthful that you and John Dean had prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in?’
“Magruder: ‘Yes.’ ”
Dean told Reuters, “I hope this book is being sold as fiction, for if it is not, readers are being defrauded.”
“His conclusions are pathetic. Rosen has simply ignored all the sworn testimony to the contrary, including my own,” he said.
Rosen notes that Dean has always denied ordering the break-in. “I wasn't even aware of the Watergate until after it happened,” Rosen quotes Dean as saying in 1999.
Many previous accounts have alleged that Mitchell ordered the break-in.
Rosen’s book also alleges that the doomed wiretapping was deliberately sabotaged by the CIA.
Rosen says he had a rich trove of previously undiscovered information to scour for his book, including 5,000 pages of executive session testimony by key witnesses before the Senate Watergate committee, including Dean, Magruder, James McCord, E. Howard Hunt and Alexander Haig.