Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

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by John W. Dean

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John Dean knows what happens behind closed doors at the White House. As counsel to President Richard Nixon, he witnessed the malignant influence of excessive secrecy and its corruption of good intentions. Now this true insider presents a stunning indictment of George W. Bush's administration. With overwhelming evidence, he shows how the obsessive secrecy and hidden


John Dean knows what happens behind closed doors at the White House. As counsel to President Richard Nixon, he witnessed the malignant influence of excessive secrecy and its corruption of good intentions. Now this true insider presents a stunning indictment of George W. Bush's administration. With overwhelming evidence, he shows how the obsessive secrecy and hidden agenda of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have resulted in undemocratic-and dangerous-policies for the nation. Dean reveals, among other facts, even criminal offenses:
• How the Bush administration deceived Congress into granting it the authorization to go to war against Iraq-a betrayal that is a breach of faith and a constitutional crime
• How Bush issued an executive order that sealed presidential papers indefinitely-a fiat that defies Congress and hides information that the public has a right to know
• How the White House ordered the EPA to issue assurances that the air quality around Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks was safe-a cynical, political ploy that ignored the dangerous asbestos levels in the area
• How a senior administration official leaked that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife was a covert CIA agent-an egregious violation of national security that borders on treason.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
If former White House counsel Dean of Watergate notoriety is alarmed by Bush's obsession with secrecy, then you know there's a problem. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
By John W. Dean

Little, Brown & Company

Copyright © 2004 John W. Dean
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-00023-X


George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime. Their secrecy is far worse than during Watergate, and it bodes even more serious consequences. Their secrecy is extreme-not merely unjustified and excessive but obsessive. It has created a White House that hide sits president's weaknesses as well as its vice president's strengths.

It has given us a presidency that operates on hidden agendas. To protect their secrets, Bush and Cheney dissemble as a matter of policy. In fact, the Bush-Cheney presidency is strikingly Nixonian, only with regard to secrecy far worse (and no one will ever successfully accuse me of being a Nixon apologist). Dick Cheney, who runs his own secret governmental operations, openly declares that he wants to turn the clock back to the pre-Watergate years-a time of an unaccountable and extra constitutional imperial presidency. To say that their secret presidency is undemocratic is an understatement.

I'm anything but skittish about government, but I must say this administration is truly scary and, given the times we live in, frighteningly dangerous. This conclusion is not that of a political partisan, for those days are long behind me; rather, it is the finding of a concerned observer, with something of a distinct understanding and appreciation of the modern presidency.

I was initially astonished watching the Bush-Cheney presidency, not certain they realized the very familiar path (at least to me)that they were taking. Richard Nixon, who resigned his presidency thirty years ago, had many admirable strengths and qualities. His secrecy, which shielded his abuses of presidential power, was not among them. Thus, from time to time, I fired off flares, hoping to throw a bit of light-if not a warning-on where they were headed. I did so by raising these matters in my regular Find Law column. For one such column, in which I discussed the potential of impeachment if the Bush administration had intentionally manipulated government intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, an editor at Salon, which reprinted the column, used the title "Worse than Watergate"-drawing his own conclusion from the material.

Three months later, Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball described the Bush administration's revengeful act of leaking the name and CIA identity of the wife of an administration critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, as "worse than Watergate" ((for the leak was potentially life-threatening, given her undercover status, as well as against the law). Matthews made this comment in an exchange with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie, who to my surprise did not disagree. So while I can't claim original authorship for the title, when my editor suggested it for this book, I could not deny that it describes perfectly what I have to say in more ways than I had anticipated.

This book began as an admonition, an approach both "beware of Bush" and "Bush beware." Only ignorance or bliss, I figured at the time, could lead another president and White House to make the same kind of mistakes we made during Nixon's presidency. As I proceeded, however, and the post-9/11 activities and operations of Bush and Cheney unfolded, it was evident that these were carefully calculated policies and plans. No longer was I writing a warning, but rather an indictment, for I could not write and publish fast enough to get in front of the abuses of power and the emerging ends-justify-the-means mentality, and even if I could have, it would not have made any difference, for they understood exactly what they were doing and why. Stated a bit differently, I've been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, will take the air out of democracy. Allow me to explain.

To compare the Bush-Cheney presidency with Nixon's tenure and Watergate and assert that it is worse than Watergate is not a charge to be made lightly. Nor do I-Watergate symbolizes totally unacceptable presidential behavior. Dictionary definitions of the term Watergate typically describe this unacceptable conduct as the abuse of presidential power, or high office, for political purposes. Watergate, of course, was a very messy presidential scandal and a political disaster for Nixon. Certainly no comparable scandal has occurred during the Bush-Cheney tenure-at least not yet. Scandals have a way of smoldering before erupting, as has occurred with every major presidential scandal-Teapot Dome, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and L'affaire Lewinsky. There are simply too many problems rumbling just below the surface of the Bush-Cheney presidency to avoid making the comparison.

Former attorney general (and later secretary of state) William Rogers once advised that "the public should view excessive secrecy among government officials as parents view sudden quiet where youngsters are playing. It is a sign of trouble." Woodrow Wilson, based on his long study of statecraft, concluded that "everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety." Thus, undue secrecy not only is undemocratic, denying the public its right to know, but also schools scandal by concealing and protecting errors, excesses, and all manner of impropriety. And we have a presidency that seeks to control, if not suppress, everything.

Political pollster John Zogby tells us that Democrats are from Venus and Republicans are from Mars, and based on my examination of the Bush II White House vis-à-vis his predecessor, I'm inclined to agree. In short, nothing suggesting a sex scandal blipped on my screen. On the other hand, the potential for a serious financial and/or power scandal, as I discovered, is quite real.

In addition, there is another state of affairs with the Bush-Cheney presidency that is worse than any scandal and far worse than Watergate. In General Tommy Franks's first interview as a civilian shortly after he departed as four-star head of Central Command, when discussing what he thought Americans should be thinking about concerning terrorism, he asked rhetorically, "What is the worst thing that can happen?" His answer is chilling. Franks has no doubt whatsoever that upon obtaining a weapon of mass destruction, a terrorist organization will use it.

If that should happen, Franks believes the Western world may lose "what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy." He has reached that conclusion because he feels that there exists "the potential of a ... massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the western world-it may be in the United States of America-that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution."

I agree with General Franks, but I suspect for very different reasons. Watching the responses of Bush and Cheney to 9/11, their obsessive secrecy, their endless political manipulation and exploitation of 9/11, their blatant suppression of rights and liberties of foreigners, their taking our nation to its first "preventive war" as aggressors in Iraq, their distortion of intelligence gathering, their Nixon-like rationalizations, I realized that-with the near certainty of a catastrophic terrorist attack against America one day-we have the wrong leaders. Not because they are not able or well motivated or "real Americans," as President Lyndon Johnson used to say-for they are all those things. But they are also zealots who are convinced of their own wisdom, oblivious to not only what Americans think but the opinions of the entire world. Former Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once spoke of this problem: "The greatest danger to liberty lurks in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." If the dreaded event that General Franks has raised occurs (and as I explain, this presidency may actually attract such an event), there is good reason to fear for the fabric of our Constitution.

It goes without saying that it would be best to have neither a scandal nor something far worse. There is, however, only one antidote: an end to the obsessive, unjustified, and disproportionate secrecy that defines the Bush-Cheney White House. In addressing these matters, I seek only to make the prima facie case, to show that these potential problems are very real, not fanciful concerns, and should not be ignored. In thinking about how best to set forth the disquieting circumstances, I selected the only form of discourse that seems fitting, a polemic. Polemic comes from the Greek word polemikos-"of or relating to war."

That, of course, is the current situation. By tradition, polemics are first-person, strongly felt, and relatively brief. Though polemics often indict, those that simply trash are worthless. Whether one accepts or rejects his argument, an example of a classic polemic is Christopher Hitchens's The Case Against Henry Kissinger. Hitchens's case is powerfully presented, compellingly and closely argued, and ardent without being strident or unduly nasty. On the other hand, Peggy Noonan's polemic, The Case Against Hillary Clinton, provided me with a perfect model of what I did not want to do: invent facts, appeal to emotions rather than intelligence, engage in vicious name-calling, and fail to provide documentation. Hitchens's work must be taken seriously, whereas Noonan's effort is easily dismissed.

By way of preface I must add that I do not believe in conspiracy theories. I use terms such as "shadow national security council," "secret government," and "hidden agenda" because they are descriptive of actual facts, not theory. In addition, I have provided detailed documentation (as chapter notes, along with occasional footnotes) not only to show where information was found but to provide access to it for others. As noted in the Acknowledgments, I have talked (or exchanged e-mails)with a lot of people while working on this project, and many wished to remain off-the-record, for reasons I understand and explain. I decided to make virtually all these sources off-the-record because they were not necessary to state my case, so only in rare instances have I quoted from any of these sources, and never for any point of particular significance. Rather, this information was used as leads, confirmation, insights about Bush or Cheney, and background about their secretive ways, or to find answers to the myriad questions that arise with such widespread secrecy.

In the chapters that follow, I begin where this inquiry started, with my discovery of the surprising Nixon-like traits of George W. Bush. When looking at him closely, though, I noted the early-warning signs of the undue Bush-Cheney secrecy. What at first appeared only a penchant for secrecy I soon realized was a policy of concealment that they exercised throughout the 2000 campaign. I've used examples of their campaign stone walling because they have morphed into White House stonewalling.

Once ensconced in their offices at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they quietly closed their doors, pulled the shades, and began making themselves increasingly inaccessible to the media and Congress while demanding complete control over government information. Government under a virtual gag order became their standard operating procedure.

In looking at the Bush-Cheney White House, I found it not unlike Nixon's in that it spends far more time crafting the president's public image and working on the politics of reelection, than on truly addressing the business of the American people. But what clearly distinguishes this presidency is its vice president, a secretive man by nature whose unmatched power is largely veiled but whose secret governmental operations have changed the world-and not for the better. Dick Cheney, effectively a co-president incognito, works behind closed doors and does not answer to Congress or the public. His partner, the president, is not sufficiently knowledgeable about their policies to answer questions about them adequately, if and when he does occasionally make himself available. It is not that he is stupid, only ignorant-and apparently by design. Yet time and again, their principal public policies-both foreign and domestic-are laden with hidden agendas.

The Bush-Cheney hidden agenda I have focused on relates to their national security policies, given their critical importance. Equally worthy of attention is their hidden agenda to end federal entitlement programs by running up budget-busting deficits while hiking military spending, which is bleeding the federal treasury and will ultimately result in there simply being no money available to pay for social programs after this administration is gone. These, of course, are programs-such as Social Security and Medicare-that they dare not eliminate. But economic and fiscal policy is not my forte, so rather than merely repeating the conclusions of others whose judgment I respect, I have stayed with matters that I fully understand.

I have made no effort to write a history of all their sorry activities. Instead, I have merely drafted a bill of particulars, setting forth a sampling of their secrecy indicative of their policies and practices that demand the public's attention. This material, found in chapters two to five, provides overwhelming evidence that their secrecy is out of hand and that it has become so pervasive and troubling that it must be called sinister, for it has dreadful potential consequences for all Americans.

Perhaps, as one historian mentioned to me, the best model for a polemic is Thomas Paine's Common Sense. After all, Paine's tract blasted a monarchy headed by a fellow named George, and he called it as he saw it. Both Paine's undertakings are certainly compatible with my intentions. First, by calling attention to the surprisingly Nixonian nature of the Bush presidency, then by proceeding through a number of particularly disquieting instances of the Bush-Cheney secrecy-not a complete catalog but more than sufficient to establish their mentality-which started with the 2000 campaign, progressed at the White House, and has resulted in the most abusive use of secrecy in the modern presidency. My hope along the way is not to scandalmonger, but rather to spray as much antiscandal disinfectant-called light-as I possibly can.


Excerpted from WORSE THAN WATERGATE by John W. Dean Copyright © 2004 by John W. Dean. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a story of the Bush/Cheney White-house, how it is steering this nation in circles, and hiding so many things from the public. The story is scary and takes the past doings of the Bush white house out into the open for all to wonder what the heck is this great nation coming too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I happen to think this book is the most balanced in its criticism of Bush and his Nixon-like Administration. What seperates this book from other critical examination of the Bush White House is that Mr.Dean worked on the inside of another dubious regime-the Nixon White House. The book shows disconcerting similarities between the Nixon White House and the Bush II White House-secrecy, ruthlessness against enemies, and wrongdoing. Although according to Dean, this administration is much worse. Even though this book was written a couple of years ago and before recent scandals have rocked the White House, it nonetheless is relevant, especially of Dean's writing on the Valerie Plame Affair.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It juxtaposes two presidencies, the Bush era and the Nixon's administration. John W. Dean underscores the overall insidious or stealth-like ways in which this faction carries itself. It forebodes many mandates that Bush is pushing now in the Senate. It also contends that Cheney is the real president who runs the country, and that Bush is nothing more than a puppet. More important Dean writes about how secrecy is a foreboding to the American people and is exactly what a government in a free society does not do. Morever, that any government that wishes to suppress information and act in a deceitful manner is not to be trusted and only proves how that government has perverted itself, and repudiated the very people who have entrusted their lives, and rights to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have found that solace could always be had in a belief in those singularly American instutions of law, representative government, and in the office of the presidency. In the Watergate affair Mr. Nixon's violation of these most fundamental beliefs was as devastating to our perhaps naive perception of the sterling nature of American political life as it was to our willingness to participate in a process which we now knew to be imperfect. Mr. Nixon and those who had actively worked on his behalf were no better than criminals to our minds. It is a comfort to know that the lessons of this time of political tumult in our history were not lost upon some who were a party to it, a silver lining if I may. John W. Dean has learned from his experience. Mr. Dean's book 'Worse than Watergate, The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush' is a scholarly work that clearly defines the colossal deceit of the co-presidency of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney. Mr. Dean has taken great pain to document his every assertion, and to show the American public how their Congress and they themselves have been lied to as a part of the perpetuation of the Bush Administration's very narrow, focused agenda intent upon reshaping the American political landscape.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A must read before the November election. I couldn't put the book down.Dean puts the facts of this administration to light.Very enlightening.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book out that examines the Bush White House. Honest, documented and much more damaging than Michael Moores 9-11 film. I bought the book last week and read it in one day. I could not put it down. Dean, who was Nixon's lawyer, really presents the information in a very readible manner. He should write more books. Every voting American should read this before casting their vote in November.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book exposed my worst fears about this most secretive and dangerous administration of my lifetime. Reading the accounts of the level of secrecy and lies deeply reminded me of my initial thoughts when the second plane hit the WTC on 9/11, which were that the administration and most likely Dick Cheney were somehow involved to forward his foreign policy agenda.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While it does not reveal any new or insider information, 'Worse than Watergate' does bring to the surface the secretive force that drives the Bush II administration in a well researched manner and compares the facts to the Nixon administration to which John Dean was, of course, privy. Bitingly written and fairly short in length, it's worth the read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While I was certainly aware of the untruth spread by the current administration, I did not know how bad things really are. Scary, very very scary...
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this I came to realize that we are experiencing the darkest moment in American history since the Civil War. We are witnessing the end of demoracy in the United States. For 67 years I was proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. I am now ashamed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's hard to tell what's true here and what is not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Dean was counsel to President Richard Nixon, so he knows a thing or two about dirty tricks and cover-ups. Having studied the current presidency, he concludes that George W. Bush is even worse than Nixon. Bush and his cronies hide stuff because there is lots to hide: Bush¿s hidden early career ¿ his draft-dodging and his business frauds and failures, Vice President Dick Cheney¿s health secrets, his dodgy Halliburton deals, his secret Council for National Energy Policy Development Group, his shadow security and intelligence outfit (the Office of Special Plans) and his covert operation for the executive¿s survival. Dean points out that Bush illegally uses executive privilege to overrule US law, as when he ordered that his, and his father¿s, presidential papers be sealed, breaking the 1978 Presidential Records Act. (Blair similarly used an order from the Privy Council to overturn British law and rob the Diego Garcia islanders of their right to return home.) Dean demonstrates how Bush is destroying civil liberties by enforcing repressive laws. For example, 5000 Arab Americans have been detained, mistreated, and denied lawyers for more than two years; only five have been charged, and only one convicted. Dean shows how Bush criminalises dissent and controls the media, and how ¿mendacity has become policy.¿ Dean observes how Bush exploited 9/11, while secretly scheming to scuttle all efforts to discover why the USA was so unprepared for the anticipated terrorist attack. He manipulated intelligence about Iraq¿s `WMD¿, transforming guesses and estimates into `facts¿. Dean documents the nineteen distinct lies that Colin Powell told the UN, a key part of Bush¿s effort to trick the American people into the illegal attack on Iraq ¿ an impeachable offence. Dean shows how Bush is implementing the US ruling class¿s plan to dominate the world. Dean points out how this creeping fascism threatens what little remains of American democracy and its people¿s rights. To a British eye, it is striking how closely Blair resembles Bush, and how closely the Labour Party resembles the Republican party ¿ the same slavering worship of wealth, the same contempt for democracy, the same arrogance of power.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. We are in deep trouble and I hope that everyone reads this book and remembers what they read on election day. The two faces that appear on the cover have gotten us into a terrible mess worldwide and they have to go!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this brilliant work exposing even more of the 'American dream' of world domination, I'm beginning to wonder how bad Osama really is. Coupled with recent revelations of torture by Americans, the world now knows that the real danger is in Washington. Most of us already knew. Reagan was not quite as bad, not quite... Thankyou, Mr Dean...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dean's data and analysis are praiseworthy. Page after page of facts I verified over time, peerless prose and logical connections make his book worth the read. I bought a few copies for gifts to others because having read my first from Dean, I can see what I've missed all these years and thought others as unaware of Dean as I've been would enjoy his skill in truth-telling. His savvy and wordsmithy amazed me. Clear view and logical connections make the case. Dean is correct; our beloved country is suffering from the Bush machine's secrecy. McCain's Courage and Dean's book remind me there are two Republicans I respect. Used to be many more...
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Dean not only discusses the evidence that the president has indeed misled the nation, but he also explains for all of us how it was done. Every American should buy and read this book before voting this coming Novemeber. I have read all the other 'Bush' books and this is at the top of the list for its prose as well as its content. It is a fast read and any will certainly be able to get through it quickly as they will have a hard time putting it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If anyone would understand how Washington works and the possible abuses of power it would be John Dean. He made his case thoroughly and with clarity. I read it in one afternoon. Sobering content and a polemic all should read before voting this November.
Guest More than 1 year ago
2 pages into it and you will be overwhelmed with feelings of deceipt from the administration..100 pages into it and you will not believe the coarse Bush and Cheney have set us all on. Something has to be done...Plaese read...Then vote!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even if you think you know all there is to know about the President, read this book. It is well researched and tells us what none of us, Republican or Democrat, wants to hear.
Guest More than 1 year ago
thanks for getting the facts out there...those 'bonesmen' are all alike.! READ before you vote.