Dean has told investigators that Mr. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of the Watergate conspirators and of offers of executive clemency extended in his name, the sources said.
Dean has little or no documentary evidence to support his charges against the President and most of his allegations are based on his own recollection of purported conversations with Mr. Nixon, the sources said.
Dean, the sources reported, claims that Mr. Nixon’s former principal deputies, H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, were also present at many meetings in which the cover-up was discussed in the presence of the President.
Dean’s statements to investigators have the effect of pitting him along against the President and Haldeman and Ehrlichman, all of whom denied involvement in the Watergate bugging or any subsequent cover-up.
The White House, as well as Haldeman and Ehrlichman, have pictured Dean as the principal figure in the Watergate cover-up. Justice Department sources say there is ample evidence to indict Dean in the case and that the former presidential counsel appears to have been more than just a reluctant participant in the Watergate cover-up.
In contrast, Dean and his associates have pictured the former counsel as a loyal White House aide who was only following orders in the Watergate, cover-up and who, as time went on, agonized over what Watergate was doing to Mr. Nixon.
Dean is still seeking full immunity from prosecution, seeking to stay out of jail and hoping to keep his law license. But Senate and Justice Department sources said Dean’s charges against the President are unrelated to the question of whether he is granted such immunity and thus are not necessary self-serving.
One of the strongest charges against Mr. Nixon that Dean has made to investigators refers to a meeting Dean said he had with Mr. Nixon shortly before the sentencing of the seven Watergate defendants March 23, Dean said that Mr. Nixon asked him how much the defendants would have to be paid to insure their continued silence, in addition to $460,000 that had already been paid, the sources said.
Dean, the sources reported, maintains that he told Mr. Nixon the additional cost would be about $1 million, and Dean also claims the President replied there would be no problem in paying that amount.
On March 26, Mr. Nixon telephoned Dean from Key Biscayne in a widely publicized call in which the President has been quoted as expressing his continued confidence in Dean telling him: “You’re still my counsel.” Dean has told investigators that in this call the President also said he had been “kidding” when he reportedly asked Dean how much it would cost to buy the Watergate conspirators’ continued silence.