Shaking hands with somewhat ancient history.
G. Gordon Liddy came to town a week or so ago and I talked to him for an hour on the radio at KING. It wasn't what I expected.
(Incidentally, some folks are confused a bit by my occasional stints as a talk- show host, so briefly, let me explain.
(Two Seattle Times columnists - Steve Kelley and I - regularly appear on KING radio. Kelley co-hosts a two-hour sports program with Dori Monson from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday evenings. I host my own call-in show from 6 to 8 p.m. Sundays.
(I still write full time here - and talk part time there. So does Kelley.)
Liddy is without question one of the most ominous figures in the murky history of American politics. I was prepared to dislike him on the spot.
But Liddy, ominous or not, is also quite charming. Besides, he was in the peculiar position (for a reputed villain) of not having been as conspiratorial as he thought he was.
Liddy was the general counsel for Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President, which eventually became known as CREEP. As such, in 1972 he headed a band of spies, Cuban militants and ex-spies (including E. Howard Hunt) who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex - a break-in that led to the cover-up that forced Nixon to resign under threat of impeachment.
An ex-FBI agent, pilot, weapons specialist and would-be politician, Liddy thought he was the leader of that pack. Recent disclosures in "Silent Coup: The Removal of a President," by investigative reporters Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, argue that Liddy was nothing of the sort.
"I thought I was in charge of the Watergate operation," he said. "Instead, I was the cut-out man."
Liddy, a staunch, perhaps fanatic Nixon loyalist, went to prison for his Watergate chicanery and stayed in prison longer than any of the other co-conspirators (President Carter reduced his prison term from 20 years to 8, "in the interests of justice").
What Liddy didn't know through all those years was that the break-in, which he supposed was for the purpose of gathering political intelligence, had nothing to do with bugging top Democrats' strategy.
What he also didn't know was that the cover-up that toppled the Nixon White House was unnecessary.
The real reason, it now seems - if "Silent Coup" is correct - was that Nixon's lawyer, John Dean, was hiding an embarrassing personal liaison.
Dean's wife, Maureen Biner Dean, had been a roommate and close friend of a woman who headed a ring of Washington, D.C., prostitutes. That information was locked inside the DNC office.
"The real ops (operations) officer was Hunt; and his principal, the man who conceived and commanded the Watergate operation, was John Dean. John Mitchell and Richard Nixon had nothing whatsoever to do with it," Liddy said.
"In other words," I asked him, "if Nixon had known Dean's real reasons for the break-in, he would not have protected the `burglars' and the cover-up would never have happened?"
"That's exactly correct," Liddy said. "He would have flushed the whole thing right at the start. Mitchell would not have gone to jail and Richard Nixon would have retained his presidency."
And had Liddy known that he had been manipulated by Dean and Hunt, he would have broken his Watergate silence and altered the course of history.
Liddy is a flamboyant man, a militarist and an admirer of German fascism. He sees himself as "a good soldier," appears totally without bitterness, and clearly without remorse.
That "Silent Coup" may clear up some of the mysteries that surrounded the Watergate years gratifies him.
"Why did Hunt not disclose the call-girl connection with John Dean's wife?" I asked him.
"He was paid off," Liddy said. "Hunt got almost $200,000 for his silence."
"And who was `Deep Throat?' "
"Al Haig, certainly. `Silent Coup' documents his connection with (Washington Post reporter Bob) Woodward."
Liddy has made his living since Watergate as an actor, a lecturer and an author. His lecture-debates with Timothy Leary have gained him added notoriety.
His public persona is brash, abrasive and combative. But there is a quiet, reflective side.
"I have no remorse," he said. "I stood for my principles."
"I would do it all over again."