- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2001

On Feb. 1, a Baltimore jury gave radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy a victory over Maxie Wells, regarded by some as a surrogate for former White House Counsel John Dean, who was expected to testify for her but did not show.

Seven of the nine jurors agreed Mr. Liddy had not libeled Miss Wells. Judge J. Frederick Motz declared a mistrial even though the jurors had deliberated only eight hours. After two hours of arguments, he dismissed the case, saying, "Having carefully considered all of the evidence, I do not believe a reasonable jury could find Mr. Liddy was negligent in making the statements at issue in this case."

Miss Wells sued over statements Mr. Liddy made in two speeches taped by Mr. Dean's attorney who later became hers. Mr. Liddy had said the Watergate burglars were sent into the Democratic National Committee headquarters to find photos of call girls believed to be kept in Miss Wells' desk to show to visitors who were looking for a date. Miss Wells, a secretary at the time, denied she kept such photos in her desk and that she had any connection with prostitution. She sought damages of $5.1 million.

Ten years ago, Silent Coup, a best-seller by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, challenged the accepted version of the Watergate story. They claimed they had found the answer to this puzzling question: Why did the Nixon re-election campaign send a burglary team into the Democratic National Committee headquarters? Mr. Liddy, an employee of Committee to Re-elect the President at the time, was one of those directing the operation.

On the 20th anniversary of Watergate, Mr. Liddy said he didn't know the real reason for the break-in until he read "Silent Coup." He said John Dean had ordered an earlier break-in to plant a bug on a phone used to arrange dates with call girls for visiting Democratic dignitaries. A second break-in was ordered after an address book giving the names of the girls being called fell into the hands of the police. Mr. Liddy claimed one of the names was Maureen Biner and that she was given the code name "Clout" because she was John Dean's girlfriend.

"Silent Coup" claimed that relationship explained Mr. Dean's keen interest in what might be found in the offices. One of the men who was caught, Rolando Martinez, an active CIA agent, was found to have a key to a desk where it was thought the photos of the call girls might be found. It was the desk of Maxie Wells.

Mr. Colodny and Mr. Gettlin found support for their theory in several contradictory things Mr. Dean had written. Mr. Dean had tried to explain some of them by claiming he didn't write or even read his own book, "Blind Ambition." Nevertheless, the media have treated Mr. Dean as a respected figure. He was in prison only four months, compared to more than four years for Mr. Liddy. Mr. Liddy called Mr. Dean a liar and virtually dared him to sue. In 1992, Mr. Dean filed suit against Mr. Colodny, Mr. Gettlin, their publisher and Mr. Liddy. Mr. Gettlin and the publisher settled several years ago.

Mr. Dean's suit against Mr. Colodny was settled in 1999, when Mr. Colodny's insurer offered large sums of money to both of them if they would settle. Mr. Dean accepted and withdrew his charges. Mr. Colodny resisted. He wanted his motion for summary to be heard by a judge, but he agreed not to oppose Mr. Dean's withdrawal with prejudice and a pledge never to sue Mr. Colodny again.

Last June, Mr. Dean withdrew most of his charges against Mr. Liddy without prejudice. The judge retained jurisdiction over what remained of the case. Mr. Liddy declared victory and again called Mr. Dean a liar. That left Maxie Wells' suit against Mr. Liddy as the last chance to test the credibility of Mr. Dean and "Silent Coup" in court. Mr. Liddy's assertions about Miss Wells went beyond what "Silent Coup" had said, but the book was cited repeatedly during the trial because the theory it advances lends support to Mr. Liddy's charges.

The judge and seven of the nine jurors decided Maxie Wells didn't have a case. This was as much a victory for "Silent Coup" as for Mr. Liddy. The Washington Post, which has guarded its theory of Watergate by never mentioning "Silent Coup," began its report on the end of the Miss Wells' libel suit as follows: "The wildcat notion that the Watergate burglary was intended to cover up a call-girl ring was catapulted today out of the realm of fringe conspiracy theories by a deadlocked jury that leaned heavily toward siding with the scenario's leading proponent, G. Gordon Liddy." New information from the Nixon tapes may soon force even The Post to recognize the "Silent Coup" theory as the victor.

Reed Irvine is chairman of Accuracy in Media.

Reed Irvine is chairman of Accuracy in Media.

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