He is an unrepentant, self-avowed liar and cheat and, says William Gulley between guffaws, he did it all in the line of duty. Now he is telling all -- or all that his publisher's lawyers will allow.
"Breaking Cover," Bill Gulley's new book, is a worm's eye view of a White House where matters of policy fade in the all-consuming quest to keep the perks flowing. Gulley, as head of the White House Military Affairs Office, was also a very special Keeper of the Perks during four administrations. He dispensed, he asserts, a secret, multimillion-dollar fund that was often illegally used to cosset America's presidents in an even more royal life style than legally comes with the office.
"In the 11 years I was in the White House, money from the fund, whose only legitimate purpose was to construct and maintain Presidential Emergency Sites, was secretly used for a variety of purposes in no way connected with deep holes in the ground -- except for the well we had dug on the LBJ ranch," writes Gulley.
Among Gulley's "revelations":
During Lyndon Johnson's administration the fund was systematically looted to update his ranch, install irrigation and sprinkler systems and to carry on in grand style long after the goodies officially ran out in post-White House days.
During Richard Nixon's administration the secret fund was used to build a half-million-dollar swimming pool at Camp David and a $418,000 helicopter pad at Key Biscayne.
During Gerald Ford's administration it was used to pay for Ford's staff at Vail.
The fund was used "for plans for a presidential support compound" to be built on land to be bought from Billy Carter. It was never built and the land was never bought, but Gulley alleges that when the president's mother found out about the plans, she told Billy, "Get all you can, honey. If they'll give you a hundred thousand, take a hundred thousand. Get all you can, because you'll never get another chance like this."
Today, Gulley, 57 and safely retired, sits in his plush Washington office and guffaws at much, including a book review by Robert Sherrill that refers to him as a "mercenary snitch" -- someone who willingly assists his superiors questionable practices, then tells all to his publisher. "I like that," says Gulley, stretching his 6-foot-2 frame into a sofa. "You know, that guy isn't too off-base." Behind the Empire Builders
Certain vital men in Washington are not mentioned in academic tomes on American politics, but they have been around as long as there have been governments. They ask no questions, no matter how questionable the request; they are the little guys who grease the slide into arrogance and excess. They attach themselves to the powerful and famous, like remora fish to larger fish, and learn how to become indispensabel. But while they do the bidding, they do not personally partake of the rewards, and this gives them a refined form of coercive power. The Gulleys are not out there alone. They could not exist without the acceptance, tacit and not so tacit, of the empire builders.
Gulley is fascinating in his bald acknowledgment of his role in the Byzantine acts he details. "If I ever got into court a lot of people would be afraid I'd say a helluva lot more things," he says with a knowing smile. "Those 'injured or slightly bruised' by the book -- well, they know there's bigger rocks."
The perks were not for himself, claims Gulley. "You had to be like Caesar's wife yourself if you were gonna do what I did, as far as your personal abuse of those things." The smile: "That's the reason I got away with it." He laughs. "People tell me, 'You was as big a crook as Nixon' -- but hell, I woulda burned the tapes if it was me." Recycled Scandals
Gulley's confessions contain no self-righteousness. "After what I did," he says forthrightly, "how could they?" Yet in revealing his complicity, he knows he is protected on several fronts. First, the evidence: There is none. He kept what records there were, and he doesn't have them now. His most serious allegations involve people who are conveniently dead or who left the White House under the non-credibility cloud of Watergate. "I am also aware of the statutes of limitations," he says with a grin.
What is more, in some instances, Gulley seems to have recycled some old scandals under a new "Secret Fund" cover. Some of Gulley's "revelations" -- concerning military expenditures -- were disclosed (albeit reluctantly) in 1973 congressional investigations on presidential expenses and abuses following the disclosure that Nixon spent $10 million in government funds on two private homes.
"But those investigations don't say where that money come from," says Gulley, laughing. "We used the secret fund for much of that; just transferred it to the Army Corps of Engineers or whoever. You notice that air-conditioned theater at Lyndon's ranch was built in 1968 -- and it never came out until those 1973 investigations."
Is it illegal, Gulley is asked, to take funds appropriated for classified emergency sites and use them for something else? "Of course it's illegal. I know of absolutely no way legally you can do that." At another point in the interview, Gulley describes how it would work. "Say you want to rewire Lyndon Johnson's house. An engineer would find a contractor who had 'lockjaw' and he'd rewire Lyndon Johnson's house. I'd get the bill -- it just didn't say what it was for. You would keep a running total, but no one but me and the engineer would know it."
Gulley admits that there were, however, many items which could have been considered normal expenses and come through regular channels. "Of course," he says, "but they would have had to go to Congress and ask for it -- and then Congress and the public and politicians in the opposition party would see that this bastard wants half a million for a pool at Camp David or several thousand to air-condition a hangar at the ranch. That was the purpose -- to hide the expense." Both Johnson and Nixon, says Gulley, specialized in secrecy.
In the past it was undoubtedly possible and probable, according to congressional officials, to bury White House funds year after year in non-specific "classified" appropriations. Misappropriating such funds for unintended pleasures would be illegal, but few on Capitol Hill seem intent on going over the past as outlined by Gulley.
"I think he's stretching the phrase 'Secret Fund' to sell books," says one member of the House Appropriations military construction subcommittee (where Gulley says he got the appropriations). "It would have been 'secret' if the fund had been set up with no one's knowledge, but it was published in the president's budget." According to the Department of Defense, some $9 million from 1964 to 1974 was listed as "classified" and transferred to the White House. No one had control over it except the president and, according to Gulley, himself.
Gulley agrees the overall classified appropriation was published, but "it's a 'secret fund' because the public didn't know about it and nobody could ever find out the things it was used for."
Hill and Defense officials hasten to say that those days are gone and that "the clamps are on." "The secretary of defense cannot even authorize any project without specific congressional approval," said the subcomittee member.
"Yeah?" says Gulley. "I know for a fact six months ago the fund was still available to the White House. I don't know if they're using it."
During that 1973 probe into presidential perks, Gulley did not exactly emerge as a whistle-blower intent on reform. He recounts how he ducked Hill investigators and never did testify. "Jack Brooks [D-Tex.] of the House Government Operations Committee dogged my days in the White House . . . and we finally reached a standoff," writes Gulley. "He'd badger me for information about Nixon and Ford, and I'd tell him if I had to go and testify I'd have to bring up what had been done with military assets in LBJ's time, too. 'And that,' I'd tell him, 'will make Lady Bird Johnson very unhappy.'" Gulley chuckles as he expounds in his office, "Old Brooks was a real Nixon hater and he called and threatened me and I'd bring up Lyndon. Brooks is from Texas and he'd get sore and say, 'Goddammit, I didn't ask you anything about Lyndon!'"
Brooks, responding through an aide, carefully chooses his words. "Gulley's memory is about as good as his judgment. While I may have cut off discussion of previous administrations' activities, it would have been done on the basis that I am not concerned with what happened in the past but to make sure there is no improper use of funds at present. It's a little too late once the money has been wasted to cry about it. I am concerned with saving the taxpayer's dollar now and in the future. I will not be sidetracked by ancient history or even juicy gossip." Big Fish, Little Fish
Gulley is tanned, partially bald and filled with one-of-the-boys affability and accommodation. One big question is why Guulley so willingly performed his sneaky tasks for the White House elite. "Hell, I was in the Marines since I was 16, a sergeant major making $5,000 a year, living in the mud and muck. I didn't want to stay with that. All of a sudden I'm making $17,000-18,000, driving a Chrysler, having dining room priviledges with the high and the mighty. I was perfectly willing to stay in the background -- I was the guy who knew where all the bodies were buried. I had a helluva lot of power."
Gulley could pick up that White House phone and order damn near anything -- planes, helicopters, construction at the ranch. The White House even had a package of Joe's Stone Crabs flown from Miami to Camp David for Haldeman and Ehrlichman's last week at Camp David. Gulley reckons the cost to taxpayers: $500 a pound.
The palace mentallity affected everyone in the White House, contends Gulley "watched what you could do there. You could even be dealing with Cabinet-level people and you could just insinuate," and here Gulley registers an authoritative tone: "Yes, the president knows. . . '" He shrugs: "No one's ever going to ask him. Hell, I had people in our office who didn't know what's going on. So you took the money and used it. So? There were no records.
"I became an expert on everything," he continues. "Learned how much you could get away with and how much you can fool the press. There was not an s.o.b. over there -- including any president, as long as they wasn't ebarassed by it; as long as a reporter didn't find out -- who didn't want everything you could get for them."
And how did he get around the press?
"You'd just lie, or you literally didn't talk to them." Gulley repeats, as if to emphasize: "Or you would just lie."
Gulley says that whenever the General Accounting Office (GAO) tried to check up on where funds were going, they were too "dumb to locate a White House hidden expenditure.
"the guys they sent were never smart enough to pursue the matter as investigators should. I'd give them a set of presidential cuff links. . . and they'd be on my side," he brags in his book. "They'd pretty well write what I wanted them to write.
"If I really got up against it with GAO, there were two more weapons. First, I could get hard-nosed with them. I could start threatening them with the president. I'd say, 'Okay, if you guys have got the balls to take on the president. . . '
"But the final weapon, and the best, was that no one could come in the gate unless he was cleared. I didn't have to see anybody, because they couldn't get in unless I let them in."
A Marine noncom most of his life, Gulley was the son of illiterate share-cropers in southern Illinois. His speech still has traces of the South, and his grammar is not always perfect. He learned all about big fish/little fish in the Marines and says repeatedly that nothing he did in the White House ever bothered him. "I really didn't think of it. If Lyndon Johnson said it, for example, you obeyed it. Hell, all those years [in the Marines] it had been the same. The general makes the rules -- he could break them. I just applied the same thinking to the president.
"I wasn't dumb enough not to know you can't spend government money rewiring Lyndon Johnson's home -- at the same time, I was very aware that if I didn't do it, they would have found someone who would." His guffaw is quick and loud. "The safest thing for them to do was to get me, a guy with hardly any formal education." The School of Hard Knocks
Gulley couldn't get out of southern Illinois fast enough, and today he finds nothing to glamorize about that past; stealing coal from the railways for heat, lying about his age to escape into the Marines.
"The Marines maybe wasn't that great to some, but compared to that life, it was," says Gulley.
The first thing he learned was the meaning of fear, at age 16, in 1939. He was supposed to stack up a number of rifles, tripod fahion, but managed to knock the stack into the sand. "I bent down immediately to pick the rifles up, but before I knew what was happening, the drill instructor, this Sergeant Fleming -- who was the meanest son of a bitch in the Marine Corps, which is well endowed with sons of bitches -- crouched down in front of me, brought his fist up and broke my nose. I was throwing up and bleeding and everybody ignored it. . . It was my first exposure to real abuse of power." Soon, however, Gulley writes, he was "learning how to manage men and manipulate situations. Without realizing it, I was in training all my life for my job in the White House military office."
On board ship he became the proprietor of a floating poker game that took place in his storeroom. "I was in charge of it and I had a key and could lock it from the inside and no one could get in. I used to take a nickel from each pot. Then I'd pay off the night cook and he'd make sandwiches and cold drinks -- and I'd charge the guys extra. Make $50 or $60 a month off of them."
Gulley was temporarily commissioned an officer during combat, and was wounded at Guadalcanal -- "We just walked in amongst the Japanese." After the war, there "wasn't that many jobs around for a guy with two years High school education. And the officers' ranks was looking for guys who knew which fork to use. My temporary commission reverted back." As a noncom, Gulley spent two decades in the Marines and then a Marine aide friend suggested him for an opening the White House mililtary office in 1966 -- Lyndon Johnson's glory days. When in Doubt, 'Classify'
Gulley's book spins a constant theme: There is nothing you can't do in the White House "if it's for the president -- it's just a question of money and secrecy, both of which are available. You figure out," writes Gulley, "what's all right for the Hill and press to see and what isn't. Then you make the 'necessary adjustments.' You move a dozen planes out of sight, waive a regulation, stamp a folder 'classified,' whatever."
He continues: "what made these abuses possible in the frist place was the ease with which secrecy could be established in the White House.
"One way to keep the budget down is just to classify whatever it is that's too expensive to bear looking into," writes Gulley. "In all my years there, the amount of money spent by the White House Communications Agency never came to light because all its operations were made classified," (Gulley's singular dip into moralizing is to rail repeatedly in the book that the White House security system is inefficient, badly run, nearly worthless.) Johnson, says Gulley, was "excellent at fixing up the figures." When they were asked how many helicopters the president had for his own use, Johnson bellowed, "Tell 'em I have one helicopter. I can only ride one helicopter at a time, so tell the bastards one's all I've got."
As gossip books go, Gulley's has a ring of real authority when he depicts Johnson the Gross. Johnson is portrayed as insisting on having some Mexicans on the honor guard and periodically bellowing, "Where are my Mexicans?"; obliviously urinating on a Secret Serviceman's shoes by a darkened roadside; demanding Air Force water trucks on the ranch to sprinkle his dusty Texas roads; making obscene comments about secretaries -- within earshot of secretaries ("Will she shuck her britches?"); bugging the White House far more elaborately than Nixon did.
After Johnson's retirement announcement, "we really got into abusing military assets -- wholesale. . . " Former presidents are allowed a great deal in the way of emoluments, but Johnson exceeded even these, according to Gulley. Some of his charges included: as a liasion officer to Johnson, Gulley ran a weekly shuttle from Washington to the ranch to cart friends and family, peaches and barbecue at government Expense. Johnsons' Navy Chief, who gave him rubdowns was transferred to the ranch where he doubled as a ranch hand. He was still on the Navy payroll three years after LBJ died. Former presidents are allowed government switchboards for six months after they are out of office, but LBJ's switchboard -- and 12 men from the White House Communications Agency -- were down at the ranch until six months after he died. "They were at the ranch all that time, four and half years," contends Gulley.
Nixon and Johnson were the biggest abusers of the pot of gold, says Gulley. His account of the Ford administration's use was decidedly nickel-and-dime in comparison. "The per diem travel for staff was ridiculously low -- you sure couldn't move into the Waldorf or Vail on that money. So we just dipped into the fund."
Some of Gulley's subjects are alive -- but few are answering phone calls these days. W. Marvin Watson, Johnson aide and postmaster general in 1968, is described as an early mentor. Gulley was put on the Post Office payroll, he claims, "to keep the White House budget low. Hell, everyone was on some other payroll. You could hardly find a person working at the White House who was on the White House payroll."
Gulley's book reads as though Watson might be able to confirm some of the Johnson-era details. But Watson -- who became head of Occidental Petroleum's international operations and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge growing out of an illegal $54,000 contribution by the head of Occidental to Nixon's reelection campaign and is now president of Dallas Baptist College -- refused to return several phone calls. Ditto Donald Rumsfeld, who could have confirmed or denied whether -- as Gulley charges -- he asked Gulley to ferry back sotto voce advice and guidance from Nixon on how to run the Ford Campaign.
As for Carter, Gulley was not an intimate.
"I didn't like Carter applying his goddamn image bit. I think it was the religious thing that got me. During the transition period, he told me, 'I want Camp David closed.' I said, 'Do you know what it is? And Carter said 'no.' He was going to cut it all out before he knew anything about it. Now, of course, he uses it all the time.
"And they really didn't do away with the cars like they said. They hid them. Changed them from Chryslers to Dodges. Paid the same price and it cost the same for gas, but it was just not the same prestige. And those 350 TV sets they supposedly got rid of. I have it on good authority they're all back there now."
The White House press office, after several inquires, said there would be no comment to any of Gulley's charges.
Not surprisingly for a person of Gulley's experience, he tends to see corruptions of the spirit almost everywhere; leaping to conclusions to fit his everybody's-doing-it-mentality. For example:
Gulley therorizes that former nixon aide Steve Bull erased the 18 1/2 minutes in Nixon's tapes based on the fact that someone saw Bull and Rose Mary Woods bent over "doing something with the tapes" and that both acted startled at being seen. Bull did work on transcribing the tapes but has consistently denied the erasures. He points out that Gulley got the date wrong and that Watergate testimony clearly contradicts Gulley's theory.
Gulley also theorizes that Scott Armstrong, former investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, was Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat" -- based on a conversation he overheard between Armstrong and Bull. "That's absolutely ridiculous," says Armstrong. "I wasn't even in town until well after Deep Throat had provided them with most of that information. I'm disappointed that Simon & Schuster would publish such a book."
"Carter says he doesn't drink -- and then we had people running all over London looking for a bottle for him." Gulley claims that on Carter's first overseas trip to London, the embassy staff had taken the Carter non-drinking publicity seriously and there wasn't a drop of liquor in the place. What's more, the stores were closed. "So," contends Gulley, "the naval aide had to go scurrying back to Air Force One to find the new president a bottle of booze . . . It seems to me the guy got himself boxed in by representing himself as holier-than-just-about-everybody during the campaign."
When Gulley left the White House he and five others who served past presidents went into business together, calling themselves International Six Incorporated (ISI). Business squabbles reduced the six by three -- Marvin Watson, Col John V. "Jack" Brennan, the White House aide who resigned to follow Nixon into San Clemente exile; Haywood R. Smith, an LBJ military aide. The company is now headed by Gulley, Maj. Gen Brent Scowcroft, Ford's national security adviser; and Dr. Omar Zawawi, the brother of Oman's foreign minister.
ISI prospered from its contacts in high places. Gulley's ever-widening circle of the high and mighty now includes the Middle Eastern oil world. He travels frequently to Egypt where, says Gulley, ISI is involved in building hotels and Disneyland-style parks. The Legacy
Gulley's "Breaking Cover" is dedicated to his granddaughter.Is it the kind of book he will want her to read when she gets older? Unrepentant to the last, Gulley chuckles genially once more.
"I'm gonna tell her and the others to work your ass off, don't go into the Marine Corps -- start at the White House.
"And," comes the final advice, "have guys like Bill Gulley working for you ."