Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Former White House aid John Ehrlichman appeared before an audience of 2,000 University of Virginia students here Wednesday night to give a speech entitled "Why We Get the Presidents We Do" that largely avoided the subject of Watergate, a topic repeatedly brought up later by questioners.
In his second public appearance since being released from federal prison in April, the 53-year-old convicted Watergate conspirator said he had not spoke with Richard M. Nixon since leaving the White House in 1973.
Ehrlichman spoke generally about the vote-getting process and criticized what he called "the bandwagon effect" - politicians pulling in votes because they are front-runners. He also defended what he termed "the political game . . . Dirty tricks have always been going on. I think we have to be realistic."
The former White House adviser, who spent 18 months in an Arizona federal prison, also spoke of the need for prison reform saying he favored alternative service to the community rather than incarceration. Ehrlichman, who used the words "slammer" and "joint" in referring to incarceration, said, "You can get tagged as a nut if you keep talking about prison reform, but there are a lot of safe people in jail . . . people who could make a contribution. We had all this human resource not being used."
At one point Ehrlichman, bearded and wearing suede hiking boots, tweed jacket and belt buckle engraved with the words "Santa Fe" instead of the business suits of his White House years, remarked, "I'm not the man I was five years ago."
When a member of the audience asked if Ehrlichman ever felt he was doing something wrong during the height of the Watergate cover-up, he replied, "Sure."
The audience applauded.
Ehrlichman added that he was the first to bring up the word impeachment and claimed he told Nixon what was happening, "to which he (Nixon) said, 'piffle' . . . or words to that effect, 'piffle-deleted.'"
He told the audience. "You had to have been pretty blind not to have realized that various serious wrongs had been done."
One questioner asked Ehrlichman if crime did indeed not pay. The speaker glared into the audience and said, "If they come to see a freak and they are willing to pay $2 for it, I don't apologize for it."
Ehrlichman spoke bitterly of the climate during his last days in Washington. "It was a full-throated lynch . . . the tree fell on me."
Ehrlichman was paid $3,000 for last night's speaking engagement, $1,000 less than John Dean was paid to speak here three years ago and $500 more than the upcoming appearance by "The Amazing Kreskin."
A rumored boycott of the speech and threats of pies in the face did not materialize Wednesday night. The only sign of protest was a lone student passing out fliers that read "Welcome to Lying for Dollars."
Earlier, at a press conference, Ehrlichman told reporters, "Watergate is all in the past . . . I was convicted. I did my time. That's all behind me." He said he feels "very sorry for Richard Nixon. He lost everything he ever cared about in life."
Ehrlichman said he will begin a new career as radio broadcaster Monday. He said he has been hired by the Mutual Radio Network for live 90-second broadcasts a week.