G. Gordon Liddy open the door to his hotel room. His smile under that fuller, brush of a mustache is as bright as his red sports coat and his brown eyes are glossy with attentiveness. bWith his clipped, precise way of speaking, he looks like a rather short, trim high-school Latin teacher.
A question walks into the room on little cat-burglar's feet. This is Mr. Macho? Mr. Watergate break-in himself? This is the guy who held his hand to a candle flame until the flesh burned, who asked John Dean if he should have himself shot, who threatened to kill Jeb Stuart Magruder?
"Oh, that," says Liddy with a soft chuckle. "Well, without getting into the old who-killed-Cock-Robin thing," which is how Liddy refers to Watergate these days, "without getting into that, let me tell you what happened."
There is a very quick but very effective pause, a deep breath.
"As you know, we did not get on. I knew I had a great problem within three minutes of meeting him. Anyway, there was an incident when Magruder did come to see me. He put an arm on my shoulder and began to tell me about how he wasn't satisfied with this and was worried about that and I simply said, "If you don't take your arm off my shoulder, I'm going to tear it off and beat you to death with it." And he went and told everyone I had threatened to kill him!"
G. Gordon Liddy laughs. It still tickles me to think abut that."
The question takes a long walk off a short pier. Good old Gordon. Still Liddy after all these years.
Liddy is 49 years old now. He got out of prison two years ago, the last of the Watergate conspirators to omplete his sentence, the one who didn't talk, the one who sat behind bars the longest, the lone wolf, the silent one, the man the newspapers described as straight out of James Bond, with his bizarre plans and his creed that had contempt for weakness and seemed to admire strength unshackled by niggling questions of morality.
Now he's written a novel, "out of Control," all about spies and suspense and full of Russians and rogue agents and he-men and hot women. Was he somewhat surprised to find that, a career which has included drug raids on Timothy Leary, a stint as a prosecutor in upper New York state, the FBI, the Treasury Department and nine -- count 'em nine -- prisons, is now taking a turn toward the overtly fictional?
It really doesn't surprise me to find myself anywhere," he says. "I like life. Some people view it as one long, dreadful chore. I see it as a long appreciation. It's like a tennis game -- you don't change a winning game, but you sure better change a losing one."
Liddy began the book in prison, "when I started I figured I had 18 1/2 years to finish it, so I might as well give it a try. But then I got thrown out of Danbury and thrown of of allenwood and thrown out of Lewisburg and what with all the moving around, I only got four chapters done."
Libby is asked what on earth could have happened to make him so popular everywhere, and he demurs. It get complicated and quite possibly boring," he says. His voice says no-no-no, but his eyes say yes-yes-yes. It's not that Libby likes to brag, it's just that, well, Liddy does like to brag and he knows just how to do it, all in straightforward uninflected sentences, as if describing the everyday exploits of any self-respecting men who finds himself in, say, the D.C. jail.
That's where he had the fight over the hairbrush. It wasn't really over a hairbrush, Liddy says. Actually he started the whole thing and the hairbrush was the excuse.
"In prison," he explains, "you have to let the other prisoners know whether or not you will let yourself be bothered. I knew eventually a battle had to come. An intelligent warrior picks his own battleground. I chose a man considerably younger than myself but about my height and weight. I didn't use martial arts on him, because I didn't want to -- ." He breaks the sentence. "at any rate, I chose boxing."
They both landed in the hospital. That was just the beginning. In Danbury, "I didn't much care for the way the warden was running the place, so I won a judgment against him." In Allenwood, "they said I had intimidated 400 other prisoners into going on strike so they sent me to Lewisburg." There they put him into solitary confinement and Liddy found it a challenge. "I immediately reduced my food intake and devised a set of exercises that could be done in a limited space."
He kept boredom at bay, he says by playing chess on a board placed on the floor between his cell and that of the man next to him.
Prison life, he said, did change his views on the way crime is punished in America. "Beforehand, I suppose I accepted the view that rehabilitation was possible and perhaps going on in some cases in the prison population." Being there brought a different perspective.
"Whatever you think of the morality and the judgement of a man who has been convicted of an armed robbery, he is a forceful, aggressive, strong personality. And he's being guarded by men with weak personalities who are guards because they can't do anything else, failed individuals trying to control strong men. It just doesn't make sense."
He was always armed in prison. He had an ax handle that was attached to a jagged, rusty piece of steel he collected from a restricted area ("of course I went in and got what I wanted"), a sharp-edged steel bar from the machine shop, and a pipe from, of all places, the plumbing shop. Then there was the knife. "That they didn't find," he says with great satisfaction. "I'm very good with knives. I studied fencing as a boy."
A disbarred lawyer who practiced jailhouse law, the son of a lawyer, and yet over ready to match more than wits with his enemies, he says tersely, "I don't believe in being a victim."
What about Watergate? Did he consider himself a victim then, when the men he worked for decided to palm off the break-in as the separate and sole production of G. Gordon Liddy's imagination?
This, of course, has always been G. Gordon Libby's kind of question. "I'm a big boy," says. I've been in the business a long time. If it had gone well, I would, of course, have benefited from it. And just because it didn't -- well, I really am outraged by crybabies."
Okay, cut. This sonata in macho minor has gone on long enough. Is g. Gordon Liddy really James Bond's understudy? Can all this tough talk be true?
"I've always been annoyed by the James Bond comparison," Libby says. "That character never even had trouble finding a parking space. And the women are all airheads. I never had nearly that number of gadgets, and I have never once sat in an Aston-martin."
As for women, "I don't think macho is an appropriate word. I appreciate attractive, intelligent women and I think they are as capable of strength and discipline as a man is."
But Watergate is still in the room, not to be avoided. "That sort of work requires courage, daring and what in Yiddish is called chutzph," says Liddy. "But it also takes intelligence and skill and luck. Even if you had taken, as I had every precaution, things can go wrong."
Which, of course, they did.
He is adked if he ever feels guilty about Watergate, if not for the violations of law and morality involved, then for the fact that he had been hired to insure Nixon's reelection -- not precipitate his resignation.
"Looking back and feeling guilt takes psychic energy," he says evenly, "When milk is spilt, you don't sit there and regret it, you go back and get another bottle."
It's back to monotone time again, so Liddy is asked about his co-conspirators, the ones he is pleased to describe as "that ill-starred conglomerate of weak people, the bulk of whom simply collapsed under pressure." Except for John Mitchell, "He talked a lot but he didn't say much. He didn't collapse."
A modest, almost diffident smile suddenly blooms on Liddy's face. "I get a little bit embarrassed when people make so much of me," he says with downcast eyes. "If I had been one of the men who came back from Vietman six or seven years ago, one of the group from the Hanoi Hilton who withstood all that intense psychological and physical pressure. I wouldn't have stood out at all. I stood out against that group because they were weak people. It was embarrassing, Magruder," says Liddy with sneer. "He always looked like he was ready to say, 'I want my mommy.'"
When Liddy was released from prison, he was asked what effect it had had on him. He answered in German. In English, it translated, "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." He was quoting Nietzsche.
He is asked for the influences on his life, the sort of philosophy he read, the temperament he admired. The answer comes in roundabout fashion. "I must emphasize from the outset, what Hitler did to the Jews was horrible and unconscionable, and, even from his point of view, counter-productive. But I do admire the mentality of the Northern and Teutonic races. To be able to [turn off] emotion, and do what you have to do is a very important thing."
G. Gordon Libby does 100 pushups, 60 leg raises and "as many negative pushups as my arms can stand," every morning. Then his 23-city book tour is over, he will come back to Oxon Hill -- to his wife and five steadfast children; to possible movie rights and TV writing; to plowing through his $300,000 in debts and to the sharp and unyielding polarities that have always ruled his world -- strong and weak, success and failure, reality and illusion, his convictions like icebergs in a black sea, white and unyielding.
"What disturbs me in this country is the inability that seems to be uniquely American, to distinguish between the way things are and the way we wish they would be. If an American and a European were in the ocean and they saw a fin coming toward them, the American would say, 'Hey, it's Charlie the Tuna,' and the European would start swimming. He'd know it was Jaws."
Nixon, he thinks, eventually will be admired for "his greatness in this country as he is in "Europe and Asia." As for President Carter -- who reduced his sentence from 20 to eight years, thus enabling his parole -- "I would like him for my pastor. I do not like him as my president." Politicians, says G. Gordon Liddy, need brains, brawn and, well, something else he says he wouldn't usually say in front of a lady. "I mean that metaphorically. I think a great deal of Margaret Thatcher."
He has also picked his presidential candidate -- a Republican of course. He won't say who it is. "Because I do favor him I will not handicap him with my endorsement."
In the end, these pronouncements of Liddy's go from the bizarre to the baroque, strange little artifacts that would never have tumbled into the trashbin of history if he hadn't bungled a burglary. No one would care who G. Gordon Liddy wanted for president or sit still for partly cryptic, mostly creepy pronouncements like, "let's put it this way, I could be the best friend you ever had or your deadliest enemy -- the choice is yours."
Liddy acknowledges his debt to history, and yes, he does get impatient to tell what he knows, if only to clear up the confusion in the minds of people who simple can't understand why he would offer to do things like have himself assassinated, other than to serve the purposes of melodrama.
"When people hear the reason, they'll say, 'oh of course, that makes sense,'" he says. "But I've not come this far only to make a mistake now and inadvertently hurt someone. I've tried very hard not to hurt anyone, and people don't realize that not all crimes have the same statutes of limitations."
Maybe G. Gordon Liddy really believe all the philosophical imperatives he silhouettes in such solemn tones. Maybe he smiles to himself in the dark, As he says, "It's better to laugh than cry." He is, after all, one of the few people to find any good in the widely held belief that Watergate has caused a universal decline in people's faith in their government and its institutions.
"If it has reduced the once prevalent feeling that there is no problem government cannot solve then that's good," says Liddy.Untimately it's up to each of us to solve these things ourselves."
"I'm content," says G. Gordon Liddy. "I'm a happy man." Which, of course, is more than most can say. Still, when pressed, Liddy can find three thins to ask of the future: I'm devoted," he says, "to assisting my children in getting the finest education they can receive, to continuing to enjoy life to the fullest and to seeing the United States regain military preeminence."