BALTIMORE -- Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy testified here Monday that the greatest political scandal in American history was set in motion by a jealous prostitute who was annoyed that a fellow call girl wore sables and bragged about being the girlfriend of Nixon administration lawyer John Dean.
Liddy took the witness stand in a defamation suit filed against him by Ida "Maxie" Wells, a Louisiana English teacher who was a 23-year-old secretary at the Democratic National Committee at the time of the Watergate break-in. Liddy's five hours of testimony in a federal courtroom filled with curious spectators and conspiracy buffs marked his first extensive remarks under oath about the 1972 break-in.
Monday the questions came only from Liddy's attorney; he will be cross-examined Tuesday.
Liddy has said in at least two speeches that the Watergate break-in was intended to cover up the fact that Dean's then-girlfriend, Maureen Biner, was part of a call girl ring run out of the DNC by stealing pictures of her from Wells' desk.
Liddy told jurors Monday that Dean orchestrated the break-in after learning that a "tasteful" photo of Biner-code -- named "Clout" -- in a skimpy negligee was among the photos in Wells' desk.
Biner, Liddy told jurors, was part of a call-girl ring that supplied prostitutes to the DNC. He said the ring was made up of girls recruited from Hollywood and from the New York call-girl operation run by legendary madam Xaviera Hollander. Liddy said he learned of the ring in the early 1990s from disbarred Washington attorney Philip Mackin Bailley.
Biner, who Liddy said was among the Hollywood recruits, had annoyed Marian Taylor, another call-girl in the ring, by boasting of her relationship with Dean. In an act of revenge, Liddy said, Taylor slipped two photos of Biner -- now Dean's wife -- into an envelope containing pictures of call-girls that was requested by someone at the DNC who wanted "fresh faces" to show visitors who used the call-girl service.
Liddy seemed to revel in the opportunity to give his version of the Watergate affair. He grew more animated as the day progressed, pleading with his attorney, Kerrie Hook, to let him tell "a good story" and often leaning into the microphone to punctuate his points in a deep baritone familiar to listeners of his nationally syndicated radio show. His dry wit sparked peals of laughter in the courtroom, even drawing snickers from jurors and U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz.
When asked to identify himself for jurors, Liddy spelled his last name in military style.
"Lima, India, delta, delta, Yankee," a straight-faced Liddy said, drawing chuckles from an audience that had swelled with lawyers and members of the public as word of his appearance began to spread through the courthouse.
The cast of characters in Liddy's testimony was varied and colorful. Among them was a washed-up baseball player, the maid of a man who dated the leader of the alleged call-girl ring, a string of revisionist authors and the burglars.
Wells' attorneys have assailed the credibility of Bailley because he has a history of mental illness and once told police he was an alien from the planet "Alpha Centauri."
Liddy's attorneys have countered by arguing that their client also relied on several books, including "Silent Coup" and "Secret Agenda," to develop his theory. Neither of those books said Wells was involved in prostitution. Liddy said he also used conclusions drawn by investigators he hired to defend himself against a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Dean. The suit was dismissed when Dean settled for an undisclosed amount with the publishers of "Silent Coup."
Liddy portrayed himself Monday as a man duped by Dean. Liddy said Dean hired him to coordinate "an all-out offensive and defensive political operation" to gather information about President Richard M. Nixon's opponents in the Democratic Party. Liddy said he code-named the operation "Gemstone."
Liddy said he thought Attorney General John Mitchell, a man he admired, was calling the shots. He said he thought Jeb Magruder, the head of the Committee to Re-elect the President, was delivering instructions to him from Mitchell.
But Liddy said he has since come to believe that Magruder was working in concert with Dean. Liddy told jurors that a report he wrote that was supposed to be given to Mitchell came back to him with handwritten instructions and the initials "J.D.," which he said stands for John Dean.
Nonetheless, Liddy recounted numerous meetings with Mitchell about Gemstone. At one point, Liddy said, he showed Mitchell expansive flowcharts prepared by the CIA to explain how $1 million in White House money would be used for illegal buggings and burglaries, known as "black-bag jobs," related to the Gemstone project. But, Liddy said, Mitchell consistently rejected the proposals.
Liddy served five years in prison for Watergate-related crimes, a period in which he said he engaged in frequent high jinks, including wiretapping the phones of prison officials and burglarizing a warden's office. He told jurors that he refused to testify about Watergate until after the statute of limitations ran out because his father "didn't raise a rat or a snitch."
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