Tapes missing in lawsuit against Watergate figure

Jury won't hear recording of Liddy

January 23, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

The first time around, it was an 18-minute gap in President Richard M. Nixon's Oval Office recordings that caused a stir. In the Watergate revival unfolding in Baltimore's federal courthouse, the issue yesterday was audiotapes that are missing altogether.

Lawyers on both sides in the $5.1 million defamation lawsuit against G. Gordon Liddy say they no longer have their tapes of Liddy's 1996 speech at James Madison University, where he suggested the Watergate burglars were looking for evidence of a call-girl ring run from Democratic National Committee headquarters.

That means the federal jury deciding whether the speech damaged the reputation of Ida "Maxie" Wells, a former DNC secretary in whose desk Liddy has said photos of the call girls were kept, won't hear the original words of the Watergate conspirator turned radio talk-show host. Jurors have heard a partial transcript.

"Here, we had a tape, on both sides, and now it's gone," U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said yesterday. "I certainly hope that doesn't happen every day."

Motz, who showed waning patience with the often-sensational trial as it entered its second week, also suggested the possibility of a mistrial after Liddy's lawyers said they learned late last week that the speech had been taped by Wells' lawyer -- who then represented Watergate figure John W. Dean III in a separate lawsuit against Liddy.

The trial continued after Wells' lawyer, David M. Dorsen, said the tape was not made to try to prod Wells into court.

"I made the tape without the smidgen of an idea that it might have something to do with Ms. Wells," Dorsen said.

Dorsen is expected to conclude his case today. He had said last week that he would call Dean to the stand -- setting the stage for a high-profile reunion between Watergate adversaries Dean and Liddy.

But Dorsen said yesterday that he would not need Dean to testify.

"That's the disappointment of the week," said Liddy lawyer John B. Williams, who was anticipating cross-examining Dean.

Liddy, who went to jail for helping to orchestrate the Watergate burglary, says he believes the burglars were directed by Dean to look for photos that could have linked his future wife to the prostitution ring.

Dorsen called to the stand yesterday Phillip M. Bailley, a disbarred lawyer described as one of Liddy's key sources for the so-called "call-girl theory" behind Watergate that implicated not only Maureen Dean, but such high-profile women as television reporter Diane Sawyer and Maryland Del. Sheila E. Hixson.

According to court records and testimony, Bailley told Liddy that Wells kept photos of prostitutes in her desk drawer at DNC headquarters to help arrange trysts for visiting dignitaries. Wells' lawyers sought to portray Bailley yesterday as a highly unreliable source with a history of mental illness and a conviction for prostitution.

Bailley testified he was taking five medications to control manic depression, paranoid schizophrenia, tremors and anxiety. In slow, thick speech, he answered, "I don't remember," to nearly every question asked, including what he had discussed with Liddy, details about his arrest in the early 1970s and what he knew about a DNC call-girl ring.

Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat, was an administrative aide at the DNC at the time of the Watergate break-in. She testified yesterday that she knew nothing about an alleged call-girl ring, but said many rumors were circulating after the burglary -- including talk about prostitution.

"Everybody was speculating on why they broke in. Nobody could quite believe the reason that was given, for political information," Hixson said. But she added, "You might recall at the time, everything was on the table."

Dorsen said it was Bailley who linked Hixson to the call-girl ring, saying she was a runner for the group. Bailley said yesterday that he didn't remember Hixson. And in her testimony, Hixson rejected the story.

"Mrs. Hixson was a single woman with four young children at the time," Washington lawyer Jack Quinn, who accompanied Hixson yesterday, said outside court. "These things Mr. Liddy says about people might make him richer, but they are absolute, putrid lies."

Hixson declined to comment further.

Liddy's lawyers argue he drew on many sources to develop his views of Watergate and did not rely solely on Bailley. Among the evidence Liddy points to is the fact that one of the Watergate burglars was carrying a key to Wells' desk when they were caught.

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