Judge says Liddy theory is strong but `debatable'

July 03, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

The federal judge presiding over a $5 million defamation case against G. Gordon Liddy said yesterday that the Watergate figure had built a strong circumstantial case to back his claims that the infamous burglary was tied to a call-girl ring.

Chief U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin refused for a second time to dismiss the case being heard in Baltimore. But he said Liddy's accuser had presented little evidence to show that Liddy was reckless in promoting his alternate theory of Watergate without admissions from key figures.

"I would suggest ... that very few people at the Democratic National Committee would be willing to talk about a nest of whores if they were involved in the DNC in the 1970s," Smalkin said, noting that Liddy's reliance on circumstantial evidence wasn't a surprise. "How else is he going to get corroborating evidence?"

Smalkin did not say he believed the theory. But he said it created a legitimate point of debate. "It's debatable," he said. "It's Watergate - it's the picture of debatable."

The case is expected to go to a jury today. In his comments yesterday, which came after the jury had left the courtroom, Smalkin also indicated that he would reconsider the defense motion to have the case thrown out if jurors side with plaintiff Ida "Maxie" Wells.

Wells, a DNC secretary at the time of the 1972 break-in, sued Liddy in 1997, saying he hurt her reputation by telling audiences that photos of call girls were kept in her desk and used to arrange liaisons for visiting Democratic officials. Wells is a community college dean in Louisiana.

Liddy helped organize the break-in and went to prison for his role in the operation. But the Watergate villain-turned-talk radio host now contends that he was kept in the dark about the real purpose of the burglary - to retrieve the photos that could have linked the future wife of then-White House counsel John W. Dean III to a Capitol Hill prostitution ring.

The Deans have denounced the theory. In questioning Liddy yesterday, Wells' attorneys sought to show that the details Liddy has seized upon don't substantiate his claims.

Liddy acknowledged on the witness stand that virtually every key figure from Democratic headquarters and Dean have rejected the call-girl theory of Watergate, first raised in two revisionist books about Watergate.

He also acknowledged that the lengthy Senate probe of Watergate never even raised the call-girl ring as a possibility.

"They devoted hardly any time at all to the break-in," he testified yesterday. "They devoted acres of time, if you will, to the coverup. They wanted to know: What did the president know? And when did he know it? And could they impeach him?"

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