Dean on 'Deep Throat': a Watergate mystery

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

In the 10 years since the Watergate, dozens of books and millions of words in newspapers and magazines have tried to tell Americans what went on behind the scenes in one of the nation's worst political scandals.

In his new book, ''Lost Honor,'' former White House counsel and convicted Watergate co-conspirator John Dean, has attempted, in effect, to write a mystery story. It revolves around trying to determine the identity of ''Deep Throat,'' the unidentified source who gave reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post inside information about the scandal.

Mr. Dean concludes this source was Alexander M. Haig Jr., at the time former President Nixon's White House chief of staff. Dean's case for pointing to Mr. Haig as Deep Throat is based on several points: Haig was in Washington on every day but one when the clandestine meetings between Deep Throat and Post reporter Woodward allegedly occurred; Haig's close relationship with FBI insiders prior to his arrival at the Nixon White House supposedly gave him access to crucial FBI information; and the former White House chief of staff was one a very few people that knew one or more of the Watergate tapes had been erased.

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Haig, who also has served as secretary of state under President Reagan, has flatly denied Dean's contention - one also doubted by many journalists who covered the Watergate affair.

If the book were judged merely as a mystery story, some readers might view several of Agatha Christie's lesser known tales as far more engrossing and entertaining. But as Dean said in a recent Monitor interview here, the real substance of the book is how he has gone about dealing with what he terms the ''shame and disgrace'' of his Watergate mistakes.

Dean served four months in jail after his sentence was reduced from a minimum of one year for his part in the Watergate cover-up. Yet, he says, this is something ''I'll be paying for the rest of my life.''

Watergate has made him, to some extent, ''a public person,'' he says, which is extracting an agonizing price. Because of Watergate and his first book on the scandal, ''Blind Ambition,'' published in 1976, Dean has become a popular and amply compensated speaker on the college lecture circuit. But at the same time, he says, Watergate nearly destroyed his second marriage, ended his career as a practicing attorney (he has been disbarred), and filled him with acute self-doubt that still lingers.

Has he really changed for the better? ''I don't know; how do I know?'' he replies. ''I hope I have. . . . I hope that I will stay on the right side of the line. I'm not going to repeat my mistakes.''

Currently, Dean is a private business consultant in Los Angeles.

''For a while, after I got out (of jail), I was almost overreflective,'' he continues. ''It became a great internal debate whether I was going to the grocery store. It really got ludicrous at one point. But I suppose it was healthy for someone who was once saying to himself all the time, 'How am I going to get ahead faster?' - that being the criteria for everything I did.''

Some of his lingering concerns about Watergate:

* That one of Watergate's chief lessons, the need for ''full and immediate disclosure'' of any wrongdoing, remain a top priority of every administration. In ''Lost Honor,'' Dean seriously questions statements former President Ford made under oath about Watergate in 1976. On the other hand, he says that President Carter, in handling the scandal involving his brother, Billy, ''did an amazing job of defusing it by total disclosure'' and ''President Reagan has certainly been wise enough not to let anything like this (Watergate) ever develop.''

* That the press and public not let the seriousness of Watergate be ''watered down'' with the passage of time. ''The early signs of revisionism are beginning to raise their heads, where historians begin to put a new twist on it,'' he says. ''I think that would be a shame to do - to try and soften it or color it other than it really was.'' And this was partly why, he says, he wrote his own second Watergate book. Will there be yet another Watergate chronicle from Dean? Absolutely not, he protests, adding he is eager to ''get on with the rest of my life.''

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