The Post's 'Deep Ross'


MUCH more is to be learned about the secret political-media power connections of Ross Perot.

1. The Rockefeller Connection. On Feb. 2, 1973, New York state's welfare department chose three data-processing companies to bid on a contract; because Ross Perot's company had a poor record in other states, it was not selected to be a bidder.

To the amazement of professionals in the field, the state welfare commissioner was summoned to the office of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to explain to Mr. Perot, who was sitting there, why his firm was not on the list.

The bureaucrat apologized profusely for the "mistake," made Mr. Perot a bidder on the spot, and later awarded him contracts, despite lower bids.

When a congressman and a labor leader charged corruption, Rocky had one of his stalwart appointees launch an investigation -- not into the sweet Perot contract, but into the motives of those who dared complain about it.

But the late Representative Rosenthal's investigation was embarrassing. A mutual friend brought the congressman to the governor's Fifth Avenue apartment for breakfast; Rocky urgently asked for a political favor; the intermediary tells me the congressman acceded to the governor's wishes and took the heat off Mr. Perot.

Why was Rocky so interested in advancing Mr. Perot's business and protecting his reputation?

2. The Roy Cohn Connection. When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial committee would not take direction from Mr. Perot, its members found themselves under a barrage of rumors about misappropriated funds. A San Antonio businessman named John Delavan Baines sought to retain Roy M. Cohn, then the nation's most-feared, take-no-prisoners lawyer, to investigate Mr. Perot's opponents.

Baines insists to me he did this on his own, not at the behest of Ross Perot; he says Cohn discussed the case with fellow lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, representing the memorial committee, and my late pal Roy decided not to savage its members.

But Tom Bolan, who was Roy Cohn's trusted law partner, says as he sifts old records: "Cohn was told that the real client was Perot but that the client of record would be Baines. This I got from Roy: Perot was the guy behind it. I cannot conceive that Perot would claim that Cohn was not asked to act in his behalf."

3. The Woodward Connection. Why, some of us wondered, was the Washington Post being such a patsy for Mr. Perot? The Wall Street Journal exposed his penchant for harassing opponents with private detectives; the New York Times' Michael Kelly revealed his shady business dealings; but the uncharacteristically docile Post went to great lengths, in a front-page article, to justify Lieutenant Perot's attempt to get out of his post-Annapolis naval hitch.

As rumors circulated that the Post was paying back a longtime source for past services, editor Bob Woodward -- perhaps fearful of his symbiotic relationship with the exposure of Mr. Perot by a competitor -- launched a pre-emptive strike: He confessed, in effect, that for at least four years Ross Perot had been a valued anonymous source for the Post.

Of course, that was not how the story was presented. "Perot Launched Investigations of Bush" was the headline, with much made of a $10,000 fee paid by Mr. Perot to a Democratic law firm in Washington to dig up dirt on President Bush and his family.

But buried down in the story was the lead: Mr. Perot brought the anti-Bush dossier he purchased to the Washington Post during the 1988 campaign, triggering "an extensive investigation" by reporters that led nowhere. Written more fuzzily were hints that Mr. Perot kept the Post busy with rumors about servicemen missing in action, Iran-contra leads, "October surprise" charges and a tip from a Florida private eye that a Bush son had visited a gun smuggler.

Mr. Woodward, who for 20 years has been claiming to protect "Deep Throat," claims now he was given permission to reveal "Deep Ross." Mr. Perot's man disputes that.

Newsies will debate the ethics of ratting on a source when circumstances change, but voters will want to know: What other media have been manipulated by the Perot Bureau of Investigation? What other snoops were hired to feed the press tidbits about Mr. Perot's enemies list?

William Safire is a columnist for the New York Times.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad