Was former White House counsel John Dean the real mastermind behind Watergate? Did he order the Democratic National Committee burgled in 1972 to get evidence about the sexual indiscretions of Democratic politicians?
And was Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward a former U.S. Navy intelligence briefer with Pentagon connections who used Gen. Alexander Haig as the basis for his "Deep Throat" revelations?
So say the authors of a book released yesterday.
Dean, President Nixon's main accuser in the Watergate scandal, actually initiated the 1972 break-in into the Democratic National Committee offices and masterminded the cover-up without consulting his superiors, the authors of "Silent Coup: The Removal of a President" charge.
Dean was motivated by a desire to collect dirt on the Democrats to boost his influence with Nixon and others in the White House, the authors say.
The book was written after seven years of research by Len Colodny, 53, an investigator and Democratic political consultant, and Robert Gettlin, 39, a former national reporter for Newhouse Newspapers in Washington, D.C.
In the book, former Dean subordinate Jack Caulfield says that Dean had asked him to have private investigator Tony Ulasewicz case the Democratic headquarters as early as November 1971 - months before other Nixon aides began to consider conducting an intelligence-gathering operation against the Democrats.
Dean's target, the authors maintain, was information about a call-girl ring they say was used by visiting Democrats.
To protect himself, Dean orchestrated the subsequent cover-up that brought about Nixon's downfall, the authors contend.
"Dean probably at some point will go down along with Benedict Arnold in our history books," Colodny said.
Dean denies the allegations in the book and said in a statement today he would take "appropriate legal actions" against the authors and publisher.
He also said he was "ready to take lie-detector tests in any instance where it is my word against either the authors or their sources."
The book runs counter to common perceptions of what caused the scandal that forced the only presidential resignation in U.S. history.
Former Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman have been viewed as the driving forces behind the burglary, which other authors contend was designed to uncover information about Democratic Party leader Lawrence O'Brien.
Among the book's other assertions:
-- It repeats a previously made charge that Haig, once an aide to national security adviser Henry Kissinger, was "Deep Throat," the principal source for revelations uncovered by Washington Post reporters Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Haig, who now heads a Washington-based international consulting firm, was traveling in Europe and unavailable for comment. In the past, he has denied being "Deep Throat."
His associate Woody Goldberg issued a statement calling the book "preposterous."
-- The authors say that in 1969 and 1970, Woodward - then a naval intelligence officer - routinely briefed Haig at the White House on sensitive matters. That conflicts with Woodward's public statement that he never met Haig until 1973.
The authors quote Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird as saying Woodward briefed Haig several times. The authors said they tape-recorded those interviews.
Woodward, who did not return phone calls yesterday, denies in the book that he was a Navy briefer fo Haig.
Bernstein, who refused to be interviewed for the book, yesterday called the book's assertions "off the wall" and "wildly inaccurate."
-- The authors say that Haig was involved in earlier spying at the Nixon White House by operatives for conservative members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Pentagon group feared Nixon's peace initiatives with Vietnam, detente with the Soviet Union and attempts to open relations with China, the authors say.
Haig leaked information to Woodward to steer investigators away from the spying, the authors say.
The book involved more than 150 on-the-record interviews with key players including Dean, Woodward, Mitchell, Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and White House employee G. Gordon Liddy.
Gettlin said he is confident that he and Colodny have peeled back the layers of myth that have surrounded the century's greatest political scandal.
"It's not just that we've talked to all the principals," he said. "We're not just relying on what they told us. We've reviewed all the documents held by the Senate investigating committee, and we've had the luxury of reading everyone's memoirs. We've been able to go back and cross-check everything."
-- Times staff reporter Carlton Smith contributed to this report.