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Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies: assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

For example, The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

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Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies: assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

For example, The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

The investigative journalist relies mainly on interviews. The historian relies mainly on documents. There is overlap, but that's the main difference.

The basic rule is that before-the-fact (in this case, pre-November 1963) documents are more important than after-the-fact ones. There's a hierarchy of evidence. People who come forward years later with stories are suspect, and if they said something different at the time, one has to discount them heavily. Meanwhile, one has to read as many documents as possible to understand the context of a particular event. Almost everything Oswald did looks, actually, like part of something bigger that was happening at the time.

Political history in general is very unfashionable, and before me, only one professional historian, John Newman, has written about the JFK case. It frightens people because so many crazy folk are involved with it, I think. It also requies a huge time commitment.

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I have always been inquisitive and wanting to know the truth about everything. I received a very good grammar school education and published my first article and a cartoon in a 6th grade school paper. At the university, I was editorial page editor for the school paper and went on to write professionally for several Texas newspapers. I always sought out unusual stories and ones that I felt were important to the readers. I joined the journalism fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi, in 1965 and went through an initiation in which I pledged to seek and report truth. Since then I have always believed that was my calling.

I personally have never felt threatened but I have had four books cancelled on me despite signed contracts plus several important projects suddenly dropped for insignificant or no reason. As long as a person is limited in his or her audience, the powers that be will simply ignore you. But if you are about to break into the mainstream, actions are taken. And if you really start to impact on the nation...well, just ask Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy what happens to you.

Journalists take a cue from their superiors and today the major media is owned and controlled by one of about four multinational corporations. For example, the NBC TV network is almost half owned by General Electric, a major defense contractor. The people at the top obviuously would not like honest reporting on the latest war as it might affect the profit line. This attitude trickles down to the lowest reporter, who quickly learns to stick to safe topics if they want to keep their job and retirement. Historians mostly work for universities and here too they face loss of job and are attacked by their peers if they veer too far from orthodoxy. These universities are largely subsidized by grants from the major corporations which discourages any deviation from conventional thinking that might upset these donors.

I see very little difference between a journalist and a historian other than the journalist probes current events while the historian studies the past. Both should look behind the conventional accounts presented by the victors and spin doctors and seek the truth of both history and current events.

I consider myself more of a reporter than a researcher, although often I have been forced to do some original research. First, I study everything I can lay my hands on concerning a topic, no matter what the source. Secondly, I evaluate this information and it soon becomes evident which information is well founded and which is mere speculation or theory. I then write about the topic with more weight given to the best documented evidence. But I also include the fringe evidence, usually with a caveat such as "Some researchers contend that..." I was taught, and I believe, that the reader should make up his or her own mind. It is not my place to tell anyone how to think. But no matter how brilliant a person may be, if they are operating on incomplete or erroneous information, they cannot be expected to make a correct decision on any matter.

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Following up to David Kaiser's reply, we must also understand that most of the documents related to Oswald were rendered inaccessible...by the FBI, by the CIA, by the military, and most importantly, by the Warren Commission. Historians simply didn't have access to documents; so we are left with journalists, who had access to witnesses, alleged witnesses, and possible witnesses, the credibility of all having been brought into question by someone or another at one time or another over the past 43 years. So the journalists have done the bulk of the writing on the assassination.

In a murder case, or at least one in which there is a trial, the prosecution WANTS the public to have all the evidence, so that they can convince the general populace that the defendant is, indeed, guilty, and that justice is served by his conviction. Yet in the case of the JFK assassination, the exact OPPOSITE approach is taken. The prosecution states the case that we have evidence that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but we want the evidence sealed away from public view for 70 years. And the Zapruder film is bought by LIFE Magazine, and is dribbled out before the public a few still images at a time, never intending for this, the most dramatic piece of evidence, to be made public.

How utterly bizarre is THAT set of events? Is it any wonder that the world remains skeptical--"we have the evidence that this lone nut killed the president singlehandedly, but we won't show it to you; you'll just have to trust us"--after such a performance? If ever there was a more fertile piece of ground prepared as a seedbed for conspiracy theories, I have yet to find it in my lifetime.

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The experience of a lifetime, including military service, academia and business, prompts my conclusion that most professional chroniclers of human events are (a) employees and (B) respecters of the status quo. This both directs their areas of interest and subjects their final drafts to way too much "reinterpretation" before they reach an audience. John Newman may be the exception that proves the rule.

In any case, fear is a powerful motivator, whether it's of peer ridicule, being fired or, in extreme circumstances, death. What the boss wants said is generally what is said.

Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies: assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

For example, The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

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There is so much rotten about the John F. Kennedy assassination that you'd think they'd never buried the bodies. I think Professor Kaiser has a point--that it's a big scary mess. It's understandable that historians stay away. What's unforgivable, IMO, is that most historians who write on Kennedy adopt this incredibly cowardly stance--telling their readers that while there is an ongoing controversyabout Kennedy's death there has been no concrete evidence blah blah blah that anybody besides Oswald was involved. Why do they feel it necessary to write such drivel? Why are our schoolkids fed such garbage? Such talk allows the government to slip off the hook. It's like saying that "Due to Richard Nixon resigning his office of Presidency he was not impeached and may very well have been innocent of all charges; therefore, there is no concrete evidence he abused his power in any way." It's chickenxxxx. At the very least, all books touching on the Kennedy assassination should note that two governmental investigating bodies came to different conclusions, that Kennedy's wounds were misrepresented in the Rydberg drawings, that subsequent investigations "moved" both wounds, that Oswald's assassin Jack Ruby had significant mob ties, that a number of the subjects of the various investigations, including Ferrie, Rosselli, Giancana, and de Mohrenschildt, died suddenly, and that the FBI refused to continue with the HSCA's investigation, outside of getting a second opinion on the dictabelt evidence. That way, the reader will know that, irregardless of Oswald's guilt or innocence, the investigation of the Kennedy assassin was poorly handled. Which, in the eyes of history, is half the story--how a nation's confidence in itself was weakened by the murder of one of its leaders, and the poor handling of the subsequent investigation. A comparison could possibly be made to the assassination of Aquino in the Phillipines, and how a few honest judges in that country helped overthrow its corrupt government.

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There is so much rotten about the John F. Kennedy assassination that you'd think they'd never buried the bodies. I think Professor Kaiser has a point--that it's a big scary mess. It's understandable that historians stay away. What's unforgivable, IMO, is that most historians who write on Kennedy adopt this incredibly cowardly stance--telling their readers that while there is an ongoing controversyabout Kennedy's death there has been no concrete evidence blah blah blah that anybody besides Oswald was involved. Why do they feel it necessary to write such drivel? Why are our schoolkids fed such garbage? Such talk allows the government to slip off the hook. It's like saying that "Due to Richard Nixon resigning his office of Presidency he was not impeached and may very well have been innocent of all charges; therefore, there is no concrete evidence he abused his power in any way." It's chickenxxxx. At the very least, all books touching on the Kennedy assassination should note that two governmental investigating bodies came to different conclusions, that Kennedy's wounds were misrepresented in the Rydberg drawings, that subsequent investigations "moved" both wounds, that Oswald's assassin Jack Ruby had significant mob ties, that a number of the subjects of the various investigations, including Ferrie, Rosselli, Giancana, and de Mohrenschildt, died suddenly, and that the FBI refused to continue with the HSCA's investigation, outside of getting a second opinion on the dictabelt evidence. That way, the reader will know that, irregardless of Oswald's guilt or innocence, the investigation of the Kennedy assassin was poorly handled. Which, in the eyes of history, is half the story--how a nation's confidence in itself was weakened by the murder of one of its leaders, and the poor handling of the subsequent investigation. A comparison could possibly be made to the assassination of Aquino in the Phillipines, and how a few honest judges in that country helped overthrow its corrupt government.
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There is so much rotten about the John F. Kennedy assassination that you'd think they'd never buried the bodies. I think Professor Kaiser has a point--that it's a big scary mess. It's understandable that historians stay away. What's unforgivable, IMO, is that most historians who write on Kennedy adopt this incredibly cowardly stance--telling their readers that while there is an ongoing controversyabout Kennedy's death there has been no concrete evidence blah blah blah that anybody besides Oswald was involved. Why do they feel it necessary to write such drivel? Why are our schoolkids fed such garbage? Such talk allows the government to slip off the hook. It's like saying that "Due to Richard Nixon resigning his office of Presidency he was not impeached and may very well have been innocent of all charges; therefore, there is no concrete evidence he abused his power in any way." It's chickenxxxx. At the very least, all books touching on the Kennedy assassination should note that two governmental investigating bodies came to different conclusions, that Kennedy's wounds were misrepresented in the Rydberg drawings, that subsequent investigations "moved" both wounds, that Oswald's assassin Jack Ruby had significant mob ties, that a number of the subjects of the various investigations, including Ferrie, Rosselli, Giancana, and de Mohrenschildt, died suddenly, and that the FBI refused to continue with the HSCA's investigation, outside of getting a second opinion on the dictabelt evidence. That way, the reader will know that, irregardless of Oswald's guilt or innocence, the investigation of the Kennedy assassin was poorly handled. Which, in the eyes of history, is half the story--how a nation's confidence in itself was weakened by the murder of one of its leaders, and the poor handling of the subsequent investigation. A comparison could possibly be made to the assassination of Aquino in the Phillipines, and how a few honest judges in that country helped overthrow its corrupt government.

Pat, I messed up that last post. I'll try again. Reasons why a historian might stay as far away from this as possible:

1. Unless one narrows his or focus to a very discrete part of this puzzle, the task appears to be overwhelming -- e.g., Waldron and Hartmann's book was 17 years in the making.

2. How can you write definitively on this when the government, apparently, continues to sit on more than a million pages of relevant documents? I suppose one could operate on the assumption that everything in the govt's possession is fabricated -- but then it seems to me you have pre-judged the issue, and in any case you still want to look at those files. By way of comparison, it's my understanding that virtually all files pertaining to WWII were declassified within a quarter century of the War's end, the last files pertaining to the Enigma Code. Here, we are 43 years and counting and there remains a treasure trove. Bottom line: while this stuff remains secreted, you as an author are at great risk of serious error, and almost everything you write is subject to serious revision tomorrow.

3. Complicating things even more are charges of witness tampering (to the point of elimination) and evidence alteration, some of which have the ring of plausibility, others of which appear preposterous. How do you navigate this hall of mirrors?

4. The evidence may lead you to very scary places, and who needs that? I'm not talking about authors lacking physical courage or moral fiber. I'm talking about living with the spectre of a potential massive cover-up on the government's part if not, as some assert, sponsorship of, or participation in, the murder itself by people with governmental responsibilites. Grim business.

5. Finally, who cares? That's irnonic here because Americans, at least, reject the "official" version by a margin of 3 to 1, according to the latest polls I've seen. But they've made their peace with it, in the same way people make peace with cheating spouses, to the extend of realizing that the details are unlikely to be resolved in their lifetimes, and they meanwhile have lives to lead. I do not sense among the vast majority of my fellow citizens a vast appetite for resolution.

At bottom, even among profesional historians, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and this one isn't very squeaky.

None of this excuses the sloppiness you rightly condemn. But I think it helps explain the void.

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John,

Since before the days of seminal German historian Von Ranke, historians have been conservative in their approach. They are overly dependent on state archives. "Safe, safer, safest" is the name of the game. The way Ph.D. journals are structured, peer review by other conservative historians means that common sense and strong suspicion fall far behind any approved corporate or governmental records. When one is immersed in the institution for years, reined in by timid colleagues and dependent on the good will of government archivists and tenured establishment figures, the history as recieved is incomplete and often misleading. Mark Knight had an excellent point, that journalists interview PEOPLE but historians mainly interrogate documents. If these documents are censored, classified or incomplete, then the written history must be incomplete, timid and misleading. The historians also have tunnel vision and are over specialized, while journalists have wide ranging real world experiences.

The IVORY TOWER is a place where reality is filtered only through state supplied documents and despite the liberal or even radical political beliefs of the historians, their product only reflects the State's version, the documents which survive and are replicated under force of law - and they are usually damn dull - I know, I go to their conventions and shake things up with comments about Richard Russell and Lyndon Johnson, Allen Dulles and Reinhard Gehlen and refer to witnesses that do not rise to the level of "History" with a capital H. Luckily, this is now changing with the Internet and efforts like this Education Forum .....

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Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies: assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

Most historians - by which I mean academic historians - do not trust subject matter which is recent (some more so than others, of course).

I internalised and accepted academic standards of evidence and inference while an undergraduate. Thus I try to write in an academic way: assertions need evidence. Deciding which sources to believe is a mixture of things. (1) Do they themselves have sources? (2) Is what is being claimed consistent with what is already known? If not, how good is the evidence?

For example, The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

Peer pressure, mostly. Being labelled a 'conspiracy theorist' is a career-damaging description; and most journalists and academics are interested in their careers first (and last).

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The investigative journalist relies mainly on interviews. The historian relies mainly on documents. There is overlap, but that's the main difference.

The basic rule is that before-the-fact (in this case, pre-November 1963) documents are more important than after-the-fact ones. There's a hierarchy of evidence. People who come forward years later with stories are suspect, and if they said something different at the time, one has to discount them heavily. Meanwhile, one has to read as many documents as possible to understand the context of a particular event. Almost everything Oswald did looks, actually, like part of something bigger that was happening at the time.

It is true that in some areas of history writing, documents are far more important than interviews. However, in some areas, such as writing about the activities of the intelligence services, documents have to be treated with extreme caution. For a start, documents can be destroyed, doctored or withheld. Senior CIA officials have gone on record as saying that details of some actions, for example, illegal ones, do not appear in documents. If they do, code names are used to make it extremely difficult for researchers to discover “who was doing what”.

CIA agents also create documents with false information (disinformation is an important aspect of the work of a CIA agent). There is an interesting passage in Felix I. Rodriguez’s book, Shadow Warrior. He explains how in 1976 he was asked to carry out CIA work in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This included the organization of using B-26K bombers and helicopters against insurgents in these countries. The problem was that Rodriguez was known to be working for the CIA and if he got caught it would have caused the government political embarrassment. Therefore he was asked by Ted Shackley to make a very public retirement from the CIA. This included being awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor (page 254).

Of course, Rodriguez, only revealed this information after he had been exposed by the Iran-Contra investigations. If certain investigative journalists had not had the courage to write about these matters, historians would not be able to write about the involvement of the CIA in illegal activities.

It seems to me that historians should be more willing to question the official account that appears in government documents. For example, the brave work of Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972) and A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2006). These are books that could not have been written if McCoy had only used official documents.

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It is true that in some areas of history writing, documents are far more important than interviews. However, in some areas, such as writing about the activities of the intelligence services, documents have to be treated with extreme caution. For a start, documents can be destroyed, doctored or withheld. Senior CIA officials have gone on record as saying that details of some actions, for example, illegal ones, do not appear in documents. If they do, code names are used to make it extremely difficult for researchers to discover “who was doing what”.

CIA agents also create documents with false information (disinformation is an important aspect of the work of a CIA agent). There is an interesting passage in Felix I. Rodriguez’s book, Shadow Warrior. He explains how in 1976 he was asked to carry out CIA work in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This included the organization of using B-26K bombers and helicopters against insurgents in these countries. The problem was that Rodriguez was known to be working for the CIA and if he got caught it would have caused the government political embarrassment. Therefore he was asked by Ted Shackley to make a very public retirement from the CIA. This included being awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor (page 254).

Of course, Rodriguez, only revealed this information after he had been exposed by the Iran-Contra investigations. If certain investigative journalists had not had the courage to write about these matters, historians would not be able to write about the involvement of the CIA in illegal activities.

It seems to me that historians should be more willing to question the official account that appears in government documents. For example, the brave work of Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972) and A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2006). These are books that could not have been written if McCoy had only used official documents.

There is certainly some truth in what you say. I do not think internal CIA documents say A when not A is the truth very often, but it is obvious that many things are never documented, and any response to any other agency is based upon what is in the documentation, nothing more. (When some one asks, inside the CIA, "what is our conneciton to x?", the answer is, in actual fact, "what is in the files about X?" ) The FBI is a different matter altogether. Data inside the FBI becomes scared as soon as it is written down (or it did.) And they are in the business of collecting data. I have just discovered (actually Newman discovered it) a case in which a senior FBI official created an alternative vision of history but that is VERY rare.

The problem for a responsible historian dealing with the CIA is this: just because various things MIGHT be true must not be taken as a license to believe ANYTHING might be true. I will discuss this point a good deal in the book.

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Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies: assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

For example, The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

An Interview with John Dean

By Matthew Rothschild

May 20, 2006

The Progressive Magazine

http://progressive.org/mag_wx052006

Here is a transcript of an interview with John Dean of Watergate fame.

Dean was Nixon’s White House counsel for three years and then testified again him. He is the author, most recently, of “Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.” On March 31, Dean testified in favor of Senator Russ Feingold’s censure bill. The interview was conducted on April 28 by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine. You can listen to the interview at http://progressive.org/radio_dean06.

Q: Tell me what you’re lasting impressions are of Richard Nixon.

Dean: In a way, he’s a comic figure. In other ways, he’s a tragic figure. I have a memory of a very complex man locked in my synapses.

Q: How long did you work for him?

Dean: A thousand days. When you listen to him on the tapes, he would be one person with his chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, he’d be somebody else with Henry Kissinger, he’d be somebody else with me. He had these different personae. I don’t think he ever had great administrative skills for the Presidency. He was slow to interact with his staff. He was very stiff. It was kind of like walking onto a set of an Oval Office when I used to first go into see him. But later on I’d walk in and he’d have his feet on the desk and he’d be talking to me around his shoes. He was uneasy. In fact, one of the interesting things about Nixon is that we had to prepare something called talking papers for him. Anytime we brought someone in the office to meet the President, because he had a zero gift of gab, you literally had to have a few sentences, buzzwords, thoughts, so he could start a conversation with this person. Alex Butterfield, who ushered more people into the office than anybody else, told me that occasionally if Nixon didn’t have this he was literally speechless.

Q: And Butterfield was the guy who surfaced the tapes.

Dean: He’s the one who, indeed, corroborated the fact that there were tapes. I had speculated in my testimony that I thought I was taped. It was the only speculation I put in that testimony back in 1973, and thank god I did. Because when they were trying to discredit my testimony, they had a system where they fanned out and interviewed all sorts of people, and so they called Butterfield in, and said, “Dean made this amazing statement that he thought he was recorded. Now isn’t that impossible?” And Butterfield said, “No, I think he’s right.” What made me aware of the fact that I was being taped was Nixon’s behavior late in the game when he literally goes to the corner of his hideaway office and starts whispering around the potted palm, “I was foolish to do this” or, “I made a mistake when I did that.”

Q: Did you ever speak with Nixon after he resigned?

Dean: Never did. I think it would have been very difficult for him. I’m not the only one who never spoke to him. John Erlichman, his chief domestic adviser, never talked to him. Bob Haldeman and he had sort of parted ways. They did patch up before they both passed away. Nixon actually was very flattering in one sense in his memoirs about me. When he started dealing with me, he’d written in his diary that I’ve got this bright young guy. But then he said I was obviously a traitor for breaking rank.

Q: How have you dealt with that accusation?

Dean: It doesn’t bother me at all because everybody for whom I had any respect I told what I was going to do before I did it. I said, “Listen, I’m not going to lie for anybody. So plan your life around that.” I said I was going to go to the prosecutors after I had told the President he was in deep trouble with the so-called cancer on the Presidency conversation. After that, people knew where I stood, and I actually had the support of some of my colleagues who said, “Do it.” What my plan was, I thought my colleagues would do the right thing, that they would stand up and tell the truth and that would end it, and that Nixon might save himself by coming forward and saying, “Yeah, I made some bad mistakes. Here’s what I did.” But instead he just escalated the cover-up to the point where he had no choice but to resign or be impeached.

Q: Some people think he could have saved his Presidency by apologizing even at the eleventh hour?

Dean: Americans like to give their President the benefit of the doubt. If you look at the poll numbers, people knew Nixon was deeply involved in Watergate and stayed with him for a long time. It’s a natural tendency.

Q: I’m very interested in the comparisons you make between Nixon and Bush.

Dean: Both men learned about the Presidency from men they greatly respected: Richard Nixon from Dwight Eisenhower, George Bush from his father. When both men became President, you got the very distinct impression that they don’t feel that they quite fit in the shoes of the person from whom they learned about the Presidency. Nixon would constantly be going down to Key Biscayne, San Clemente, or Camp David—he just didn’t like being in the Oval Office. I saw this same thing with George Bush, who is constantly away. The other striking similarity is that both men talk in the third person about the office of the President. It’s like the royal we. You look at other Presidents, like Reagan and Clinton, who clearly filled that office. You almost had to pry Clinton out at the end of his term. And Reagan, despite whatever weaknesses he had intellectually, filled the role of President and played it to the hilt. So Bush has a Nixonian distance from the White House.

And I was stunned at the secrecy of this Administration. I knew that there’s no good that can come out of secrecy. So I began looking closely at Bush and finding the striking Nixonian features of this Presidency: It’s almost as if we’d left an old playbook in the basement, they found it, dusted it off, and said, “This stuff looks pretty good, we ought to give it a try.” As I dug in, and still had some pretty good sources within that Presidency, I found the principal mover and shaker of this Presidency is clearly Dick Cheney, who is not only reviving the Imperial Presidency but expanding it beyond Nixon’s wildest dreams.

The reason I wrote a book with the title “Worse than Watergate,” and I was very cautious in using that title, is because there was a real difference: Nobody died as a result of the so-called abuses of power during Nixon’s Presidency. You might make the exception of, say, the secret bombing of Cambodia, but that never got into the Watergate litany per se. You look at Bush’s abuses, and Cheney’s—to me, it’s a Bush/ Cheney Presidency—and today, people are dying as a result of abuse of power. That’s much more serious.

Q: Dying in Iraq?

Dean: Dying in Iraq. God knows where they’re dying. In secret prisons. To me the fact that a Vice President can go to Capitol Hill and lobby for torture is just unbelievable. Just unbelievable! The fact that a small clique of attorneys in the Department of Justice can write how can we get around the Geneva Conventions so that we can torture during interrogations—I can’t even get their mentally. And when you read their briefs, they didn’t get there mentally.

Q: The amazing thing about your book is that it was written before Cheney went up to lobby for torture, before the NSA scandal broke, and before the Valerie Plame thing.

Dean: They just keep walking into my title and adding additional chapters.

Q: Talk a little bit more about Dick Cheney. You call him “co-President” in your book.

Dean: I do. It was evident, even at the beginning, when Cheney was very confident they were going to win at the Supreme Court. I’ve got some friends who were in there and they were telling me what was happening, and they said Bush doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Cheney’s setting things up the way he wants. He’s designing a National Security Council that’s more powerful than the statutory National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice. And it was, and it is. She was the perfect foil for him because he can roll over her anytime he wants, and he does. Putting her over at State is even better: Keep her out on the road. The Cheney-Rumsfeld connection has really been driving the foreign policy since day one.

Q: Why do you think Bush divested so much of his power to Cheney?

Dean: Bush had expertise in one thing: How to run a Presidential campaign. He understands campaigns and Presidential politics. He has no interest or disposition or I think probably—he’s not stupid, but he’s not bright, he’s not a rocket scientist—he isn’t interested in policy. Cheney is the opposite. He loves this stuff. He’s a wonk. He gets into it, and he’s had very strong feelings about issues that he’s held for a long time. He has been determined to expand Presidential power. I can’t find in history any other Presidency that has made it a matter of policy to expand Presidential powers.

Q: Tell me about the Feingold hearing on censure.

Dean: I’ve been invited several times over the last decade or more to testify before Congress, and I’ve always found a polite way not to do it.

Q: Why is that?

Dean: I knew it would make a certain sensation, my first return since the Watergate hearings. I thought it should be an issue that’s important. It should be an issue I felt strongly about. So when Senator Feingold invited me to appear on his censure resolution, I thought, this is a very good issue. I appeared not as a partisan. My partisan days are really long behind me.

Q: How do you identify yourself politically?

Dean: I’m registered as an independent. And I vote for as many Democrats as I do Republicans. I’m really a centrist in many ways. I don’t fly on either wing. I explained to the Senate committee that there was a lot of baggage connected with censure. But I said how important it was that the Senate do something since Feingold’s bill was addressing a blatant violation of law, the violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. When Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, he went to Congress to seek permission after the fact. We have a President who says, “Screw that, I’m just going to do it.” It’s an in-your-face attitude. And he’s rolling over the prerogatives of Congress.

Q: You made a comment that should be famous: When Bush said he was bypassing the FISA requirements, you remarked that it was “the first time a President has actually confessed to an impeachable offense.”

Dean:That’s exactly what he did. One of the provisions in Nixon’s bill of impeachment was his warrantless surveillance of media people, which is now covered directly by the FISA law. Warrantless wiretapping is an impeachable offense. It couldn’t be any clearer.

Q: In your book, you also talk about the possibility—I would say the likelihood—that Bush lied this country into war. Can Bush be impeached for that, too?

Dean: When I deconstructed his State of the Union just before the Iraq War and looked at the available information even then, it was clear that the representations he was making as fact were not fact. Is that lying? It certainly is a form of distortion. This is the highest point in a Presidency in his relationship to Congress when he reports for the State of the Union. It is a crime to lie to Congress. The founders thought that misrepresentation to Congress was to be an impeachable offense. And the way Bush did it in the follow up procedures he actually belittled Congress in sending them bogus material. It was really quite stunning when one peels it all apart. And I said, “Is there any question in my mind that this is an impeachable offense?” No.

Q: How do you respond to people who say impeachment is never going to happen?

Dean: There’s a political reality about impeachment. It’s purely a political process. The interpretation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” can reach a long way, all the way to sex in the Oval Office, which was an absurd use of the impeachment clause. Impeachment is the big cannon. As long as the same party that controls Congress controls the White House it just isn’t going to happen. I’m not sure that even if a President murdered his wife, they would impeach him. But those who are focusing on this issue are raising important questions. And one of the reasons I thought a censure resolution was appropriate was because if somebody had censured Nixon or even if a resolution of either house had passed, saying what you’re doing is unacceptable to Congress, that shot across the bow might have straightened him up. I wish Feingold’s resolution could get more traction. It might provide us all some safety because there’s two more years left of this Presidency. And I must say there’s a good possibility in November that the House or Senate or both is going to go Democratic, and it’s going to be hell for this Presidency for the last two years, and they’ve earned it. And that’s when impeachment could become a true reality. I’d settle for oversight, but impeachment’s not out of the question.

Q: I’d think, if things get hotter, and the Democrats get control of the House, that censure might be attractive to Bush, if he’s got any sense, so he could put a lid on this cauldron.

Dean: It’s not a bad idea because they have supplied a steady diet of material. It’s going to be two years of executive privilege fights. The subpoena will change the complexion of the oversight.

Q: In your testimony at the Feingold censure hearing, you said that this is the first time you’ve actually feared our government. Why is that?

Dean: Now I don’t frighten easily, but I find it frightening because Dick Cheney knows no limits. The only person he reports to is George Bush. He works behind closed doors. And I know, from little tidbits I’m picking up from friends who have to be careful not to speak out of school, that there’s more probably more covert activity going on, both abroad and maybe here in the United States, than in decades because of this so-called war on terror.

Q: Do you fear for our democratic system?

Dean: I fear for the system. And I fear for our liberties. Only a small group of people fights for our liberties.

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Mr. Caddy's presence here reminds me of something which historians should NOT overlook. Of all the Watergate-related horrors, perhaps the most insidious one was Hunt's creation of fake documents designed to discredit Kennedy, and blame hims PERSONALLY for the death of Diem. What made Nixon think of such a thing? Why pick Hunt to do it? The logical answer is that such things had been done before, and that Hunt's experience in the CIA included the creation of fake documents. Historians should not be naive on this issue. When studying Nixon's role in bringing down Alger Hiss, for instance, one should definitely question the veracity of the Pumpkin Papers.

With the Kennedy assassination, there is at least one document that appears to have been created for the record, and is not legitimate. In December 63 Hoover created a memo for the record about his feelings on the Kennedy assassination, stating that the Justice Department was leaking info to the media, etc. but that he wanted his top assistants to know they were still looking into the possibility of an international conspiracy. According to former FBI man William Sullivan, and former AG Katzenbach, this memo was a LIE created by Hoover to cover the fact he was the one doing the leaking. The WC exec sessions show that they shared this belief. The smoking gun proving it was Hoover is in the details of the articles created as a result of these leaks. They uniformly represented Kennedy's wounds as interpreted by the FBI, and not as interpreted in the autopsy report, which the FBI had refused to read.

Edited by Pat Speer
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