CNN’s Watergate series: This coverup is worse than the crime

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

CNN is presently running an entertaining series, Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal, featuring Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean explaining the tumultuous Watergate epoch.  Unfortunately for the public, this narrative of a White House coverup is itself a coverup.  

Certainly, most of the major “facts” presented (as opposed to their inferences and spin) are not controversial, albeit interlaced with small, but nonetheless significant, elisions.  But for those few who understand these facts and their inferences well, the overall narrative thereby portrayed does not pass the smell test.  

The accuracy of this series is historically important, as Watergate has now proceeded from the category of current events to that of American history.  Parenthetically, CNN, in supposedly recounting this important history, cannot resist cheap shots at the hated Donald Trump, who did not attempt any spying on or sabotage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but, rather, was himself the victim of spying and sabotage at the hands of Clinton. The clumsy Trump comparisons, though, are merely gratuitous appendages to a series in which the core premise is far from proven.

Because of the importance to our history, CNN’s imprimatur on Dean’s unchallenged narration is highly questionable, incomplete partisan journalism.  It is not appropriate to have Elizabeth Holmes leading a seminar on ethical securities sales, nor Matt Lauer on appropriate conduct in the #metoo era. If, as certain evidence suggests, Dean may have played a far different role than he admits, isn’t this series by its very structure a coverup, because it avoids this evidence?  And if by so doing, the public is not confronted with clear, presently known facts, does this series promote the public interest or harm it?  It is not beneficial to our understanding of this scandal, centered as it was on an unethical coverup,  because by concealing evidence, the series itself is a coverup, preventing a true understanding of the scandal’s unanswered questions.

It would take a book to examine what really happened in Watergate, in contradistinction to the conventional narrative, but based only on the facts in the first two episodes of Blueprint, we know that much information conveyed in the series lacks both important context and well-documented evidence contrary to its main theses.  

Just a few of these omissions show the series’ overarching falsehood, to wit, that the purpose of the burglaries (there had been a DNC burglary two weeks prior to the infamous June 17, 1972 arrests) was for the campaign benefit of a President obsessed with winning.  In fact, these burglaries assuredly were not for campaign purposes and were not directed by the Oval Office or Campaign Director and former Attorney General John Mitchell.   But if not the Oval Office or Mitchell, was there at least one White House entity ultimately behind the June 17 burglary?  Some strong circumstantial evidence suggests that narrator John Dean should film an episode looking in the mirror, asking this very question.  He likely knows the answer, but likely will not provide it.

Ex-FBI Agent and Nixon campaign lawyer G. Gordon Liddy was indeed, as the series suggests, an unguided missile, obsessed with a Teutonic love of unquestioning militaristic obedience.  The series suggests, but does not directly say, that the White House and Mitchell wanted this eager rogue to hatch his fevered schemes by moving from the White House Plumbers unit (a covert team tasked with responding to damaging national security leaks) to Nixon’s reelection Campaign (CRP).  But in fact, if Liddy’s highly candid memoir, Will, is to be credited, it was Dean who talked Liddy into taking a CRP job through visions of an intelligence operation funded, per Dean’s assurances, with “half a million for openers”, a generous budget at the time.  Unbeknownst to Liddy, Mitchell had no interest in hijinks and knew nothing of Dean’s initiatives to Liddy.

It was Dean who pushed Liddy into two fatuous presentations of the “Operation Gemstone” plan (a series of illegal acts such as black bag operations and kidnappings to keep troublemakers away from the Republican Convention) to a thoroughly disgusted, albeit stone-faced, Mitchell.  

Despite what they told Liddy in order to obtain burglary funding from his CRP security budget, the Watergate burglars never intended to wiretap the professed target, DNC Director Larry O’Brien.  Burglary team leader James McCord had assured Liddy that O’Brien’s office was bugged in the first burglary, but that its signal had been shielded by concrete and steel.  In fact, no one attempted in the first burglary to breach O’Brien’s office.  And, if the team had so desired, O’Brien’s large corner office could have been located by a blindfolded bumpkin.  We now know the wiretap had actually been placed on the phone of a minor Democratic official far from O’Brien’s office, that of Spencer Oliver, Jr., who had nothing to do with the Campaign and was constantly away from his office on travel.  So, with no campaign information to be collected from this odd wiretap, we can logically infer that the Oval Office had nothing to do with these silly burglaries.  

One episode of Blueprint treats burglary supervisor Howard Hunt’s operational notebook as mysteriously having been found by Dean in his file cabinet after Hunt’s arrest, while all else from Hunt’s White House safe had either been given to investigating FBI agents or. for more sensitive materials, to FBI Director Patrick Gray, the latter seemingly for their destruction.  So why. out of all the explosive evidence of spy-craft in Hunt’s safe. were his notebooks kept by Dean, and only Dean, which he eventually destroyed? Why didn’t he hand them over to the FBI, Gray, or, for that matter, to his White House superiors? 

Dean portrays his destruction of Hunt’s notebooks as protecting higher-ups, but was there a lower-down who mainly benefited from the destruction?  Hunt later claimed that these notebooks would have shown: a) that Watergate was a lawful CIA operation based upon approval by presidential agents; and b) the identity of those agents.  Can the reader guess whom Hunt claimed was one of those agents?  

But if not for campaign purposes, if not directed by the Oval Office or Mitchell, and not focused. as represented to Liddy, on  DNC Director Larry O’Brien (but instead on the phone of a minor nobody official, largely absent on travel), what was Watergate truly about?

We will not find out from Dean or from the idiotic anti-Trump ramblings of lowlife lawyer Michael Cohen.  Trump is just like Nixon, this ham-handed aside is meant to tell us.  

In any case, there are plenty of answers available to the questions we raise here, but you will not find them in this continued Watergate coverup by CNN.

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of the book, Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism and the host and author of the podcast series and forthcoming book, The Mysteries of Watergate.


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