Blind Ambition: The White House Years

Blind Ambition: The White House Years

by John W. Dean


$17.99 $19.99 Save 10% Current price is $17.99, Original price is $19.99. You Save 10%. View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, January 22
17 New & Used Starting at $3.00


A six-month New York Times bestseller: “Not only the best Watergate book, but a very good book indeed” (The Sunday Times).

As White House counsel to Richard Nixon, a young John W. Dean was one of the primary players in the Watergate scandal—and ultimately became the government’s key witness in the investigations that ended the Nixon presidency. After the scandal subsided, Dean rebuilt his career, first in business and then as a bestselling author and lecturer. But while the events were still fresh in his mind, he wrote this remarkable memoir about the operations of the Nixon White House and the crisis that led to the president’s resignation.
Called “fascinating” by Commentary, which noted that “there can be little doubt of [Dean's] memory or his candor,” Blind Ambition offers an insider’s view of the deceptions and machinations that brought down an administration and changed the American people’s view of politics and power. It also contains Dean’s own unsparing reflections on the personal demons that drove him to participate in the sordid affair. Upon its original publication, Kirkus Reviews hailed it “the flip side of All the President’s Men—a document, a minefield, and prime entertainment.”
Today, Dean is a respected and outspoken advocate for transparency and ethics in government, and the bestselling author of such books as The Nixon Defense, Worse Than Watergate, and Conservatives Without Conscience. Here, in Blind Ambition, he “paints a candid picture of the sickening moral bankruptcy which permeated the White House and to which he contributed. His memory of who said what and to whom is astounding” (Foreign Affairs).


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504041010
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 12/20/2016
Pages: 504
Sales rank: 486,558
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John W. Dean (b. 1938) served as White House counsel for President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973. During the Watergate scandal, his Senate testimony helped lead to Nixon’s resignation. Dean has written about Watergate in his New York Times bestsellers Blind Ambition and The Nixon Defense. Among his fourteen other books are the national bestsellers Worse Than Watergate, Conservatives Without Conscience, and Broken Government. A retired investment banker, Dean is now a columnist, commentator, and teacher in a continuing legal education program for attorneys, the Watergate CLE. Most recently, Dean held the Barry Goldwater Chair of American Institutions at Arizona State University. He is currently consulting on a Watergate television series under development for ABC Entertainment.

Read an Excerpt

Blind Ambition

The White House Years

By John W. Dean


Copyright © 2016 John W. Dean
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4100-3



"Would you be interested in working at the White House?" Bud Krogh asked me casually.

It was a warm afternoon in May 1970, and we were walking toward a park bench that was well shaded by the aged trees surrounding the Ellipse. Bud had invited me to his White House office and, when I arrived, had suggested that we take a stroll so that we could talk, but I had had no idea what he wanted to talk about. I was pleasantly surprised by the question.

"Why do you ask?" I countered, trying to check my impulse to give way to the flattery.

As I listened to Bud telling me he had recommended me for President Nixon's White House staff, I was also paying attention to the little voice in the back of my head that was telling me to act reserved, to remember the negative impressions I had collected about the White House: friends haggard and drained from long hours of pressure, able men reduced to "gophers" and errand boys, breaking their necks whenever one of the President's top aides had a whim. That was not for me even if it was the White House. My job at the Justice Department was relaxed and enjoyable, with importance and promise for advancement. "Bud, thank you," I said, "but I really like it at Justice."

I did not want to act coy, just properly cautious, so that he would carry back the message that I would not be lured by just any job. He was scouting, and I wanted to find out exactly how interested the White House was. As always, I was masking my inner calculations and feelings, this time behind an appearance of friendly sincerity. So was Krogh. We had both come a long way in the government at thirty.

Speaking as if he were musing on whether I could move my desk down the hall, Bud inquired whether I thought the Attorney General, John N. Mitchell, would let me move to the White House.

"I really don't know," I replied.

Bud said that his boss, John Ehrlichman — the President's former counsel and present domestic-affairs adviser — or Bob Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, might raise the possibility with Mitchell. I liked the notion of these powerful men negotiating for my talents.

Nothing happened, but several weeks later John Mitchell called me into his office to tell me that my going to work at the White House had been discussed, and that he had raised no objections. But Mitchell did not encourage me to go. On the contrary, he told me that I could expect to be promoted at Justice in time and that I would be better off staying where I was. In an almost fatherly way he suggested that the White House was not a healthy place; his distaste for the President's staff was vague but real. I knew there was some jealousy between Mitchell and the White House, but I had no idea the animosity cut deep. I would learn.

In early July, I was eating lunch at the Congressional Hotel on Capitol Hill, discussing the Administration's drug legislation with a key House Commerce Committee member, when I was paged to the phone. It was Lawrence Higby, Haldeman's chief gopher, and he was in a hurry. The legendary White House operators had tracked me down at my obscure corner table for Higby, who was across the country at the Western White House. He asked me to catch the next plane to California because "Mr. Haldeman wants to meet with you." Immediately. Drop everything. With the efficiency that was the stamp of Haldeman's staff, Higby reeled off the available flight times. I thought I could catch the three-o'clock flight from Baltimore's Friendship Airport with a mad dash. I would be met in Los Angeles, he told me, but he failed to say why I was being summoned to San Clemente. I assumed it was about the White House job. "Don't miss the plane," Higby said and hung up.

I went back to the lunch table and whispered to my Justice Department colleague, Mike Sonnenreich, that he would have to carry on without me. As nonchalantly as possible, I mentioned that I had to leave at once for San Clemente on urgent business.

His jaw dropped, his composure momentarily lost. "You what?"

Having secured the name dropper's most savored prize, I smiled and rushed off.

Richard G. Kleindienst, the Deputy Attorney General, was in a meeting. I interrupted to tell him the news. We had talked about my moving to the White House, and he was more opposed than Mitchell. Half seriously and half to flatter, he said again that he didn't want to lose me, and that the last place in the world he wanted to see me was in "that zoo up the street." No title and no amount of money could induce him to work there, he said. Despite the overstatement, he was serious. When I said Haldeman had summoned me, he observed, "Haldeman's the only son-of-a-bitch in the whole place who can think straight. You'll like Bob."

I dashed home to pack, carefully selecting suits, shirts, ties and shoes consonant with my image of the Nixon White House. As I drove my Porsche through the early-afternoon traffic on the Baltimore–Washington Parkway, I wondered whether I could beat a speeding ticket by telling a policeman I was on my way to the Western White House. Luck spared me, and I caught the flight with five minutes to spare.

Five hours, a few Scotch-and-sodas, a meal, some thoughts about the White House, some promising conversations with the stewardesses, and we were landing. The passengers in the first-class cabin were pulling their coats from the overhead racks when an officious airline executive stepped briskly on board.

"Excuse me," he said to the startled passengers, "would you all wait just a moment, please?" He whispered to the stewardess and then followed her to my seat. "Mr. Dean?"


"Are you going to San Clemente?"


"Do you have any luggage?"

"Only what I'm carrying."

He took my bag and marched off the plane ahead of me. The other passengers were held up until I made my exit, pleasantly embarrassed. Just outside the plane's door the executive stopped in the folding passageway to unlock a door that led down to the ground. By this time, the flight crew had gathered to watch. I noted the curiosity on their faces and tried to look as though I were accustomed to this royal treatment. I planned to step smartly into the limousine I expected below, but instead of a limousine I saw, not a hundred yards away, a shiny brown-and-white Marine helicopter with a corporal in full-dress uniform standing at attention at the foot of its boarding ramp.

The airline executive handed my suitcase to a young Marine lieutenant who stepped out of the helicopter as we approached. The corporal, still at attention and expressionless, snapped a salute at me without even glancing at my face. I stopped at the top of the boarding ramp to look back at the crew while the chopper pilot gunned the engine. I decided I had handled my escalating headiness fairly well. I had been cool, had controlled my excitement, yet had managed a little hustling. Well, I thought, if nothing else came of this trip I could at least call the stewardess whose name and phone number I had managed to acquire. I figured I wouldn't have any trouble getting a date — she must be wondering just who I was. I was wondering the same thing.

The pilot asked me if I'd ever been in a helicopter before. I told him yes, in military helicopters much like his, except not as plush. Shortly after I went to work at the Justice Department the senior officials had gone through a nuclear evacuation drill, and a helicopter had whisked us to a secret subterranean retreat where we would operate the government in the event of a real attack. Also, I had once surveyed an antiwar demonstration from a helicopter. I preferred not to think about those previous trips, because now I was relishing the glamour without the unsettling idea of living like a mole under scorched earth or of watching police bang heads.

As we headed south toward San Clemente, the pilot pointed out landmarks and towns along the coast: the drydocked Queen Mary, being converted into a hotel but looking from the air like an old and rusting toy; the indistinguishable beach towns of Newport and Laguna; and hundreds of white dots on the water, the luxury boats marking the leisure and wealth that abound in Southern California. We landed at a helicopter pad a few miles from the Western White House, and I was driven to "the compound" by another Marine corporal. The grounds and the buildings looked like the campus of a well-endowed small college. I heard my driver receive instructions on his two-way radio to take me to the "admin building," where Higby was waiting.

Higby asked if I would like to freshen up before I met Mr. Haldeman. My God, I thought, I'm meeting with Haldeman tonight. As I splashed cold water on my face, I realized I was tired from the trip and from the meal and the drinks on the flight. I began thinking, Maybe I am really too interested in this job, maybe that's the wrong frame of mind. I suspect it is the fear of failure or rejection that sets off this defense mechanism in me before any interview. I wanted to make a mental adjustment. I would have to collect my thoughts fast, and I would have to start telling myself I did not even want to work at the White House.

I was still working on convincing myself later in Haldeman's outer office, when Haldeman emerged. We had never met before, but when he saw me he bounded across the small reception area, his right hand extended, a broad smile on his face. Athletically built, with crew-cut hair and deeply tanned skin, he looked like a college football coach recruiting a new player — not like the awesome ramrod of the President's guard I had heard so much about. And he seemed genuinely pleased to meet me, which caught me off guard.

"I'm Bob Haldeman," he said. I was faced with a split-second decision on how to respond. I didn't want to become trapped as I had with Mitchell, whom I still called "Mr. Mitchell" or "General." Even though our relationship was now informal, I could not pull myself over the mental hurdle to call him John. I doubt that he would have, been offended, but he had never invited me to change, either. The pattern, I thought, had been fixed at our first meeting. I wanted to do better with Haldeman. His unexpected pleasantness pushed my resolve over the edge.

"Bob," I replied, "it's nice to meet you." That took care of that. Since he did not seem put off by my informality, I was heartened enough to comment on his suntan.

"Well, don't get the idea that all we do out here is lie around in the sun," he said with a smile. Haldeman usually managed a tan. Later Iwondered if Bob's tan level was an indicator for the President as to when they should travel to the warm climates he also loved. Whenever Haldeman's tan began to fade, off they would go.

He asked me into his office. Comfortable and well equipped, it was out of a catalogue for contemporary office furniture. The entire office complex adjacent to the President's house was new and expensive, and it looked it. Money had been no concern; the expenses had been safely buried in inconspicuous budgets.

The pleasantries quickly disposed of, Haldeman asked me to be seated and opened up a file which contained my resumé, the FBI field investigation that had been run on me before I went to Justice, and some notes.

"I thought it would be useful for us to talk about your coming to the White House. Ehrlichman has recommended you to be his successor as counsel to the President, but you would not work directly for Ehrlichman. You would be reporting to me. So I thought we should talk. Of course," he said after a brief pause, "the President will make the final decision, but I believe he will follow my recommendation. I guess I know about your background, education and all that crap," he said, scanning my resumé, "unless there is something you'd like to add to what you've got on your resumé?"


"Well, tell me what you do for Mitchell over at the Justice Department."

I described my responsibilities, but it was clear that he was not listening to what I said but to how I was saying it. Haldeman, it seemed, lived by Polonius' advice to his son — "apparel oft proclaims the man." I watched as he checked me out and saw a reflection of his own taste in clothes. I was wearing black wing-tip shoes; he was wearing brown wing-tips. He had on a white button-down-collar shirt; mine was blue. My suit was as conservative as his. Later I discovered that he and I shopped at the same men's store in Washington.

"Do you think you can handle the job of counsel to the President?" Haldeman asked.

"Well, Bob, I am not really sure I know what the counsel does."

He described the job. The counsel would not be involved in program or policy development. Those functions belonged to John D. Ehrlichman's newly created Domestic Council or Henry A. Kissinger's National Security Council (for foreign affairs). The counsel's office would be responsible for keeping the White House informed about domestic disorders and antiwar demonstrations, investigating possible conflicts of interest for the White House staff and Presidential appointees, handling all matters relating to Presidential clemency, and generally assisting the staff with legal problems. Or, as Haldeman said with a smirk, "doing whatever you goddam lawyers do for those who need you."

"I think I can handle the job," I answered, though I was not at all sure. I didn't understand his description. The job sounded vague and scary. If you made a mistake at the White House, you'd be finished. Mistakes at that level would be whoppers.

While I was worrying about my future survival, Haldeman asked a most curious question: "Do you believe that you can be loyal to Richard Nixon and work for the White House rather than for John Mitchell?"

"I'm sure I can, yes," I answered. But I was thinking, How strange, Mitchell has a close relationship with the President. Haldeman's question reflected the same mutual suspicion I had heard in Mitchell's advice. I thought I was savvy about political skirmishing, but I did not understand how one could be disloyal to Nixon if one were loyal to John Mitchell, whose fidelity to the President was, I thought, unquestioned.

At last Haldeman asked me if I really wanted the job. Following my inner game plan, I said I was not yet absolutely sure, I would like to think it over, at least overnight. He seemed surprised, but said we could talk in the morning. I thought my hesitation was having the proper effect on him — he would not take me for granted.

Haldeman offered me a ride to my hotel with him, Higby and another aide, Presidential Appointment Secretary Dwight Chapin. Just recently, I learned, Haldeman had changed his mode of transportation to and from the office. A native Southern Californian, he stayed at a family house on Lido Isle, about thirty-five miles north of San Clemente. Each morning he had been picked up at the island by a Coast Guard launch, taken across a small bay to Newport Beach, driven a few miles to a helicopter pad at the Newporter Inn Hotel, helicoptered to a pad a few miles from the President's estate, and then driven to his office at the Western White House. The operation had employed six men and four vehicles and had taken about an hour. Then Haldeman, bent on efficiency, had discovered that he could travel faster on the freeway.

So we rode back on the freeway that night, and I got my first glimpse of Haldeman's relationship with his staff. It was not a relaxed ride to Newport Beach, where Haldeman was dropped off. He fired questions at Higby and Chapin and asked me a question about the protocol of addressing federal judges. His manner with Higby and Chapin was condescending, and he bitched at them when they didn't have ready answers. I winced at what I was seeing, but as I watched Higby and Chapin I thought their obsequiousness invited the treatment. They had both worked for Haldeman at the J. Walter Thompson advertising firm in Los Angeles and had joined the 1968 Nixon election campaign with him. From there they had gone directly to the White House staff as his aides. This explained their relationship in part: Haldeman had made them. If I went to work for Haldeman, I told myself, I would never accept their trampled position.


Excerpted from Blind Ambition by John W. Dean. Copyright © 2016 John W. Dean. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.

Table of Contents


Author's Note,
1 Reaching for the Top, Touching Bottom,
2 Firefighting,
3 The Tickler,
4 Linchpin of Conspiracy,
5 Containment,
6 Closing In,
7 Breaking Point,
8 Scrambling,
9 Going Public,
10 On Camera,
Journal: July 1973–January 1975,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews