Liddy testifies in his defense


G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate's macho cowboy who refused to testify during the scandal nearly 30 years ago to protect his superiors, took the stand yesterday in a style befitting his new public role - tell-all talk-radio host.

Defending himself in a $5.1 million defamation case, the 70-year-old Watergate conspirator went on the charm offensive. He regaled jurors and a courtroom full of curious onlookers with his firsthand account of history and a steady stream of one-liners.

Liddy at times became so animated as he testified about the events from 28 years ago that both his attorney and U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sometimes cut him off because he had strayed off course.

"That's one of my best stories," Liddy protested at one point, describing one unsuccessful attempt to get inside Democratic headquarters.

Motz replied: "I've never heard 'the good-story theory of relevance.'"

The G. Gordon Liddy Show that played out in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was much like the daily radio version in one other way. Liddy refused to back off his claims that the 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters was orchestrated by Nixon lawyer John W. Dean III, who wanted photographs that could have linked his future wife to a call-girl operation.

If anything, Liddy escalated the attacks, suggesting on the stand that Dean also used money from President Richard M. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign to buy the silence of one person who could have tied Maureen Biner Dean to the prostitution ring.

"Follow the money," Liddy attorney John B. Williams said, repeating the line that made Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein famous, as he questioned Liddy about the latest claim against Dean.

Dean has dismissed the "call-girl theory" entirely. The defamation lawsuit now on trial was brought by Ida "Maxie" Wells, a former Democratic National Committee secretary who Liddy has suggested kept the call-girl photos in her desk and helped arrange trysts for visiting Democratic officials.

Yesterday marked the first time jurors have heard from him directly. And on topics ranging from his role in Watergate to the federal prison system, he delivered an earful.

Liddy has long had a flair for the dramatic in courtroom presentations. A former state prosecutor in New York, Liddy once summed up a robbery case by pulling a pistol out of his pocket and firing it at the courtroom ceiling. (It contained blanks.)

Yesterday, he held the room's attention without props. The former FBI agent, who spent almost five years in prison for his role as the head of the political espionage team in Watergate, detailed his work for the Nixon White House. He also told what happened in the hours and days after the five burglars working for him were arrested inside the DNC on June 17, 1972. When he went home that night, Liddy testified, his wife asked if something was wrong.

"Yeah," he responded. "Some of our people got caught tonight. I'm probably going to jail. And I rolled over and went to sleep."

The next day, he testified, he went to his office and started "shredding stuff left and right."

Liddy said he long believed in the conventional theory that the Watergate break-in was designed to get political dirt on Democrats. But he now believes that Dean was the unseen hand behind the break-in.

Going further yesterday, Liddy said that his investigators in the 1990s talked to a stockbroker for the call-girl ring's de facto bouncer, a former FBI agent named Lou Russell. The broker said that Russell, who typically lived close to the bone, suddenly had about $25,000 to invest between late 1972 and early 1973. Liddy then read a passage from the autobiography of H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, who wrote that $22,000 in campaign cash temporarily given to Dean never has been accounted for.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10 a.m. House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

1 p.m. House Environmental Matters Committee, hearing on bill to appoint task force to study aging sewer systems and recommend funding for repairs, Room 160, Lowe House Office Building.

1 p.m. Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, hearing on proposed ban on using cell phones while driving, 2 East Miller Senate Office Building.

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