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Warren G. Harding
ISBN: 0805069569
Warren G. Harding
—from the publisher's website

President Nixon’s former counsel illuminates another presidency marked by scandal

Warren G. Harding may be best known as America’s worst president. Scandals plagued him: the Teapot Dome affair, corruption in the Veterans Bureau and the Justice Department, and the posthumous revelation of an extramarital affair.

Raised in Marion, Ohio, Harding took hold of the small town’s newspaper and turned it into a success. Showing a talent for local politics, he rose quickly to the U.S. Senate. His presidential campaign slogan, “America’s present need is not heroics but healing, not nostrums but normalcy,” gave voice to a public exhausted by the intense politics following World War I. Once elected, he pushed for legislation limiting the number of immigrants; set high tariffs to relieve the farm crisis after the war; persuaded Congress to adopt unified federal budget creation; and reduced income taxes and the national debt, before dying unexpectedly in 1923.

In this wise and compelling biography, John W. Dean—no stranger to controversy himself—recovers the truths and explodes the myths surrounding our twenty-ninth president’s tarnished legacy.

TRANSCRIPT
Warren G. Harding
Program Air Date: March 14, 2004

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Dean, why did you want to write a book on Warren G. Harding?
JOHN DEAN, AUTHOR, "WARREN G. HARDING": I grew up in Marion, Ohio, which is Warren G. Harding`s home base. That`s -- he wasn`t born there, but he came there very early in his life, and he was the big name in town when I was growing up. In fact, I -- my paper route took me right by his house when I was about 14 years of age.
LAMB: How long did you live in Marion?
DEAN: I went off to school shortly after that, to a private school, but I was there about five years. And we lived not far from where the Harding home was, and most of my friends were much longer time residents of Marion, and Harding was somebody who sort of fascinated everybody in town because of his -- his persona and -- the high school was named Warren G. Harding High School. There was this Harding memorial, that Harding memorial, and so on and so forth. So he`s a major figure in the town and the first president I really think I had an awareness of.
LAMB: Well, these books are backed by Times Books and also by Arthur Schlesinger. How did you and Arthur Schlesinger get together?
DEAN: Well, Arthur and I lectured on the same group several years ago. It was a group down in Florida. In fact, it was right during the Clinton impeachment proceeding. Arthur gave a talk about history in general, and I happened to be asked to sort of predict how the process would work. And I had, from my years in the Nixon White House, actually read the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial once. And at that point, we knew little about impeachment, so I -- I made a projection that the House would probably impeach Clinton but that the Senate would acquit him. So I was on the record as being fairly prescient on that.
LAMB: So...
DEAN: And any way, Arthur and I struck up a -- we had a conversation at that point, and we had a nice rapport. And I`d sent him my -- the -- I don`t use a prepared talk when I speak, but I said, Are you interested in my material? He said, I`d love to have it. And so we started a little rapport. And then I happened to read in "Publisher`s Weekly" that he was doing this series on all 42 past presidents, and so I called him. And I said, Arthur, obviously, I shouldn`t do Nixon, but I`m going to surprise you in asking if I can do one that I don`t know if you`ve assigned or not. And I said, I -- I lived in Marion, Ohio, and I`ve never thought that Warren Harding really got a very fair shake by history, and I`d like to do that one. He said, John, you`ve got it. Do it.

And he encouraged me all the way. You know, it was -- the series, as you know, Brian, is -- they`re not full biographies. They`re fairly tight. And when I did the first draft, I went way over the limit. It`s -- the book now is down to where it`s supposed to be, about 55,000 words. But I did about -- I kind of got into it and I did about 75,000, almost 80,000 words in a fairly polished draft, but did it in a way I could collapse it down to where they wanted it. But Arthur actually didn`t want it cut very much. Some of the early life we cut down a little bit, but the material I had in about his presidency and sort of sorting out some of the problems that had occurred because history had given him such a bad shake -- when I finished, Arthur said, John, you`ve made me rethink Harding, and I think you`ll make a lot of other historians rethink it.
LAMB: When was he president?
DEAN: He was president in 1920, and he died in office in 1923.
LAMB: So how long was he in? How many...
DEAN: About 880-some-odd days. I think it was 882. And so that`s -- there`s a number of presidents we know that haven`t made a full term. And so he was -- I`m sure would have been reelected had he stood for reelection. He was a very popular president at the time he died, and he was very beloved in office.
LAMB: Do I remember a figure of nine million people were along the railroad route from San Francisco...
DEAN: You do.
LAMB: ... back to the East Coast?
DEAN: You do. When he died in San Francisco, he was -- he had taken this western trip up to Alaska, the first president of the United States to go to Alaska, as a matter of fact, and he foresaw the potential of statehood of Alaska in 1923, when he went up there. But he died in -- at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. And when the train brought him back across the country, people lined up -- they were in fields. They were at crossings. They were hanging off of the rooftops of buildings.

And apparently, the most moving thing was that the crowd would get so clustered and they would be singing hymns, some of Harding`s favorite hymns. And it was apparently quite a moving procession across the country. And it hadn`t been since Lincoln had died, really, that anything had been quite as emotional. And then it wouldn`t be until Roosevelt died, and of course, in our lifetime, when the Kennedy assassination -- we all recall how that impacted our lives. But so he had a big impact.

And he -- in judging a president, I`ve always -- you know, when presidents are ranked, as you know, one of the first lines I say in the book is that he`s considered the worst president of the United States. He really got bashed by history after he died in office. And from a -- initially, there were a lot of very popular works that were overboard, in a sense, in praise, and then it all started to turn.
LAMB: Go back to your days in Marion, Ohio. What kind of a family did you grow up in? What were your parents doing?
DEAN: Yes. My father came to Marion -- my father was a Carnegie-Mellon engineer, and he had worked at Firestone for a number of years. And he was an expert at sort of manufacturing efficiency, and he became the president of a company called Marion Products in Marion. And they made ventilator windows for Ford and dashboards for Ford. We haven`t had ventilator windows in a long time, but -- it was a manufacturing company. And that`s what brought us to Marion and...
LAMB: What year would you have come again?
DEAN: This would have been about 1950, `51.
LAMB: And you were?
DEAN: I was -- I was about 10, 11, 12 at that time -- about 12, yes.
LAMB: So what do you remember about Warren Harding in those early days?
DEAN: Well, I remember the -- I remember the house, of course. He had -- we lived on a side -- the main drag in Marion, Ohio, is Mount Vernon Avenue, and the Harding home is on Mount Vernon. We were on one of the intersecting streets, up about two blocks from his house. He had a -- you know, it wasn`t a huge house, but it was a good-size house. He had been, at the time, a successful editor. He was still growing, but you could build a -- quite a nice house in those days for not the same kind of money that it costs today.

But I remember -- I went to junior high school in Marion and actually still have some friends that have sort of dispersed and that last year lost one of my dear friends, who I`d known in Marion. In fact, I dedicated the book to his father and his -- himself and then his mother -- actually, it`s his stepmother, still alive.
LAMB: But you`ve -- you say in your introduction or someplace in the book that you were a personal friend of either the grandkids of...
DEAN: Ah! (CROSSTALK)
LAMB: Is it an illegitimate child?
DEAN: What it was, was Florence Harding had been married before she married Warren Harding. And she was married to a -- sort of the town rake, who -- that`s what he became, a fellow by the name of Pete DeWolf (ph). And Pete was their next-door neighbor. She was a Kling (ph). That was her family name. And her father was a very tough cookie, might be the best way to describe it. And when she grew up, she was a disappointment to her father when she wasn`t a boy. He`d always hoped to having a boy, and when -- when Flossie came along, he sort of raised her like he might his son, rather than a daughter.

And she went -- he was a very successful -- he was actually the richest man in town of that era. And he had a hardware store, and he took Flossie to the hardware store, and she grew up around men. She was five years older than Warren Harding. She was born in 1860. He was born in 1865. But at one point, she got into an affair, and sort of the -- really, the consensus is she did it because she was trying to escape from a very domineering father. And it was a common-law marriage, and she had -- they had a child by this marriage. And they left town. Old man Kling, as he`s known in Marion at the time, wouldn`t help support the child or his daughter. She`d made her situation, and he wanted her to work it out. And she did. And later, she was teaching piano lessons and teaching Warren Harding`s sister piano, and that`s where it`s believed she first met Warren.
LAMB: When did they marry?
DEAN: They married in -- let`s see. That would have been -- ….They married in...
LAMB: Or how old was Warren Harding?
DEAN: Warren Harding would have been in his mid-20s when he got married.
LAMB: So what kind of life did they have in Marion for those years? What were they doing?
DEAN: He was -- he -- when -- after he graduated from college -- he went to high school -- excuse me -- he went to college at 14 years of age, to a college that no longer exits in Ohio, taught for one year after he got out of college, and was sort of looking for a career. He -- when he came to Marion, he realized that there was a newspaper for sale called "The Marion Star." It had been not a very successful paper. It had been in existence seven years. It was up in the sheriff`s office for repossession.

Warren Harding had loved the newspaper business. As a -- as about a 13-year-old, his father, who was a doctor, had apprenticed him to a -- as a "printer`s devil," which is sort of a printer`s handyman that does the dirty work and lots of -- a gofer today. And he was -- had a facility with words, and he set type very quickly for such a young person. And the -- and so he -- he had this love of words and he`d been introduced to the newspaper business. In college, he starts, while he`s a senior, a paper in Iberia (ph), Ohio, where the college was located, and it was relatively a successful little six-page paper for two college kids to start. And I`ve always wondered whatever happened to that paper.

But at any rate, he moves to Marion after college. His family has moved there. And he teaches for one year and he finds "The Star," and he says, Let`s make a go of it. And he gets a couple friends together and they raise the 300 bucks. And Dr. Harding, the father, co-signs a note, and they get the paper, which really launches his career.
LAMB: He`s the oldest of eight?
DEAN: He is the oldest of eight. Two would die in childhood. Several -- he had several sisters and one brother.
LAMB: So you also write early on about his friend, Jim Phillips (ph).
DEAN: He had a number of friends. He`s a person who collects people all the way along through his life who become sort of lifetime friends. Phillips is one of them.
LAMB: But what I was getting at is that the -- and what would have been the age in which he had -- he struck up a relationship with Phillips`s wife, Carrie (ph) Phillips?
DEAN: Well, Phillips`s wife -- Phillips married a -- a -- who was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in Marion at the time. She actually wasn`t from Marion. Phillips was from Marion, and he ran a department store in Marion. And he married Carrie. Carrie was probably -- she was about 10 years Florence Harding`s junior, so -- and probably -- she was about -- so that would make her about five years younger than Warren Harding.

And they met and were just another couple in Marion, and I -- there must have been a long sort of burning relationship because what happens is, Warren goes off and he`s elected to the Ohio senate. He gets active in Ohio politics. He -- the -- or excuse me -- the newspaper and the supplement that they do get successful, and he becomes successful. And Florence Harding falls very ill. She has a -- a floating kidney problem that they thought was -- you know, they knew very little about medicine then, but it would go bad and she would become bed-fast for literally months on end and her life was tenuous.

And one of these times when she became ill, Carrie Phillips had just lost a child, and Jim Phillips had had a nervous breakdown. Warren arranges for his friend to go to Battle Creek to a hospital, a sanitarium there, where he had visited, we think for his heart, but made the arrangements for his best friend to go there. And meanwhile, Carrie reaches out and she`s this attractive woman and they start an affair that will go on for 15 years.
LAMB: Anybody know about it during those years?
DEAN: I think it was pretty well suspected from the -- I was able in putting the book together to talk to a lot of people who, you know, know -- they`re not -- you know, they`re not of the same generation, but through their families they know a lot of the facts. And they -- they pretty much say that it was -- it was well known. It was well known long before it became public knowledge. It was known when I was growing up, for example, and it really didn`t become public knowledge and widespread knowledge until 1973, when a fellow by the name of Russell wrote a book called "The Shadow of Blooming Grove (ph)." And he got -- he discovered the letters from Carrie Phillips. Excuse me, I`ve just got...
LAMB: What year did you eventually move out of Marion, Ohio?
DEAN: Well, I left Marion in 1952 because I went off to private school. And my folks were still there for a while.
LAMB: So you mentioned he was in the state senate. What was his first elected office, and why did he run for office?
DEAN: His first elective office was to try to become a county supervisor when he saw that the race was going to go to -- by default to a Democrat. And as a young -- as a Republican and editor of a paper, he just thought it was a no-lose situation. He might get some readers. He was a very good speaker, a very fluent speaker. And so he ran for that office and lost. But he got a larger vote in that particular Democratic region of Ohio than anybody previously had. He was slow to enter politics, and his first really important job was he ran for the Ohio senate and was in the senate for several terms.
LAMB: Then what?
DEAN: He goes from -- he retires from the senate and really is -- he ran for the -- the gubernatorial race once and was defeated. It was -- he didn`t want to run. The party wanted him to run. He thought it a bad idea, and it was a bad idea. It was a very divisive time in Ohio politics. One thing I should mention, though, that while he was in the senate -- and this is some of the things that have -- sort of history`s overlooked with Warren Harding. The Ohio senate really had a fair amount of corruption in those days, and Warren Harding was not corrupted. He had made a good living. He was a successful businessman long before he went into politics. He lived comfortably. He had a wife who ultimately made up with her father, and so there was no need to reach. And he became very respected in Ohio for that reason alone, because they -- everyone knew he was clean and that he was sort of the go-to guy, as somebody who could solve problems. And governors went to him, and what have you.

So he retires from politics and plans really just to continue building "The Star" and being the editor when he -- he`s active in Republican politics still. He`ll go -- he goes to his first convention, Brian, as a -- as a, really, 19-year-old kid who has a pass because he`s bought this newspaper, its most valuable asset being a free pass for all the railroads. So he goes off to Chicago and to the first Republican convention. I feel that`s one of the defining events of his life, where he -- you know, this country boy goes to Chicago and sees the -- Blaine (ph) was the Republican nominee. And he sees Roosevelt putting people into nomination, Theodore Roosevelt, and a lot of the great speakers, Ingersoll (ph) and -- and it obviously catches his fancy.

But when he comes back to Ohio, as I say, he`s not active. And he really gets back into politics when there`s an opening for the U.S. Senate, and those who know him say, Why don`t you take a run at it? He`s at this point -- he`s -- you know, he`s matured. He`s in his early 50s. And he decides to take a go at it and very successfully runs. He`s an interesting politician, Brian, in the sense that he refuses to -- particularly in primaries, to speak ill of other Republicans. He had Ronald Reagan`s "11th commandment" long before Reagan had made it sort of what should be the going rule. So he won`t campaign hard against other Republicans for nomination, and this works. People like the fact that he`s not a divisive politician, and he`s elected to the Senate on the first bid.
LAMB: You have a -- milestones in the back...
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: ... where you do the dates and when things happened -- 1914, elected to the United States Senate. Was that direct election or was that through the legislature?
DEAN: That is a -- that is the first direct election -- let`s see, `14 -- no, that -- oh, yes, that -- no, that is a direct election.
LAMB: And at that time -- had he served in the military at all?
DEAN: No, he had not.
LAMB: Did he have any children?
DEAN: Well, that`s a good question. (LAUGHTER)
DEAN: That`s a tougher question than you...
LAMB: Is that a trick question?
DEAN: It`s a trick question! (LAUGHTER)
DEAN: There is a -- purportedly, he has an illegitimate daughter. I have grave reservations about this whole situation. People in Marion have grave reservations. His family -- and he has a family of doctors. His father was a doctor. His mother was a doctor. His brother -- and there`s a whole line of Hardings now -- in fact, there is a Warren Harding III, who I`ve talked to, delightful man, who`s a doctor, in Cincinnati. Actually, he was in Los Angeles in a -- and worked for the Dodgers for a number of years as their physician after going to UCLA.

But anyway, the question of whether he has any children -- the family always understood that he was sterile and was -- he loved children and would have loved to have had children. We know that Florence Harding had a child from a prior marriage. So theoretically, she could have had children. So that tends to -- to support the fact that, indeed, he was sterile. After he dies, a story comes out that he has this illegitimate daughter. In fact, it really becomes one of the turning points of his reputation.

In 1927, a woman by the name of Nan Britton (ph) publishes a book called "The President`s Daughter." Her name is Elizabeth Anne (ph), and in the book she -- Britton says she`s never -- the father had never met the child, and that the affair had started in 1919, while he`s still in the Senate and continued while he was into the White House. During the Clinton years, this came up a couple times. I have the gravest doubts about this happening. When you really start getting into some of the people who had knowledge, and it seems to me much more myth.
LAMB: You say in the book that when the Secret Service supposedly -- she says the Secret Service interrupted them in a closet somewhere in the White House?
DEAN: Right. I don`t believe it. The chief agent of the -- a fellow by the name of Edmund Starling (ph), denies all this. And it -- it just doesn`t seem possible to me that -- too many people -- while the White House isn`t anything like it is today, as far as security and what have you, the best I can tell, his -- he -- his affair with Carrie Phillips lasts while he`s in the Senate. It`s handled discreetly. It`s never -- it just -- they fell in love, and there`s -- what happened is, Carrie Phillips wanted Harding to divorce his wife. He refused to do so, and that`s what breaks up the affair. And she goes off to Europe and has an affair with the Kaiser. (LAUGHTER)
DEAN: But as far as Nan Britton, she`s very -- much, much younger than Warren Harding, and she`s really been infatuated with him since Warren`s sister was one of her teachers at the high school. And she has this infatuation. And I`m convinced, as I put the pieces together -- what happened is that Carrie Phillips`s daughter and Nan Britton were friends. Because of the letters that Harding had written, which would later appear and -- while they`re in the Library of Congress now, they won`t be released until 2010. They`ve been sealed up. But I`m -- I think that Nan Britton saw those letters because Carrie kept them. And Carrie`s daughter and her mother were estranged. And I think that Nan sort of adopted Carrie`s story and made it her own and then created this whole myth.
LAMB: One last question on this. Did you try to track down Elizabeth Anne`s relatives?
DEAN: Elizabeth Anne, I believe, is still alive today. And I`ve actually been talking to Warren Harding III about this. I actually know where there is DNA today. But I didn`t want to do a DNA test to resolve it until I had the permission of both Elizabeth Anne or her family and Warren Harding, the existing Warren Harding, or the brother George, also -- have the permission of both.
LAMB: Does Elizabeth Anne have a last name that you know about?
DEAN: I do. It`s in -- I mention it in a footnote in the book. Excuse me. I was -- I was able to track her. For the reason of privacy, I`m not going to throw her name out because I -- people looking at the book, I think, is -- is a little different. But I`m -- I think it would be a great mystery to resolve, but she may well not want to know the paternity issue.

And I was able to track her to Glendale, California and find that she popped up in 1964 and gave an interview with "The LA Times." I then went to sort of the basic records and the telephone directories, and what have you, and followed them until 1970. I was able -- and then they all sort of disappear. And it`s a very unusual spelling on the name. So I gave up. I was spending too much time trying to track this down.

But what happened is, I had a conversation with a lawyer friend here in Washington, and we -- I was telling him about this -- this wonderful mystery it`d be nice to solve. And I said I`d actually talked to people in -- about DNA testing and paternity. And it`s a very simple test. You just have to do a swab on the cheek, and you can do it fairly quickly and it`s very inexpensive. And I said it`d be a great mystery to resolve and solve that problem. And he said, Well, I have a -- one of the law firms that we work with, and we do a lot of estate work, have missing heir search capabilities. And do you want me to try? And I said, Sure. Well, we found all of them, so I know where all Elizabeth Anne, her sons, her daughters...
LAMB: Three children, did you say?
DEAN: I think she has -- I don`t know for sure how many children she has. At least she had two sons and possibly a daughter, and I believe she`s living with her daughter right now.
LAMB: And she would be how old?
DEAN: In her 80s. In her 80s. So if she happens to catch this broadcast, maybe she`ll come forward on her own. I don`t want to force the issue. It`s sort of an invasion -- her name has been mentioned by students of the subject. But we could resolve a question very simply today that we couldn`t years ago.
LAMB: Let me stop for a moment and ask you about how you went about this. How long did you work on this book?
DEAN: I -- well, I had a unique situation. I have probably in my library about everything that`s been written about Harding. It`s just one of those -- after a very early conversation with my next-door neighbor, who happened to become the editor of "The Marion Star," which was Harding`s paper -- he kind of got my attention and I started reading about him very young. And so what I did to work on the book is I had to reread a number of books, the best books.

One of the -- excuse me. Let me ….go..back on this, to give you a little background. The reason history got so astray on Harding is that it was long believed that his presidential papers had been burned by Florence Harding. She did get a box and she did burn some, but actually, what had happened is his secretary, who`d been with him in the Senate, a male secretary who`d been a long-time family friend, as well, had all of his Senate papers and then took all of his presidential papers and put them in the basement of the White House. And they were there until 1929, when they were discovered during the Hoover administration. And they were all sent off to Marion, Ohio.
LAMB: Just for a moment -- he died what year again?
DEAN: In `23.
LAMB: So they were there for six years in the basement.
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: OK.
DEAN: Yes. And then they go -- they`re shipped off to Marion, and they stay in the basement of the -- of his house. When I was bicycling by that house, there were all those presidential papers no one ever opened. And finally, in 1964, the -- as they were approaching the 100th anniversary of his -- of his life, if you will, the Ohio Historical Society convinced those who had control of the papers for the Harding Association to put them -- and make them available, that they would process them and give them archival treatment, and what have you. So that was when they became available.

And only really two historians, Brian, have really worked sort of with public editions of -- from those papers. Robert Murray (ph) is one. A fellow by the name of Sinclair (ph), a British guy, Andrew Sinclair, did a fast study. Murray is the best general biography, and he did a follow-up work as to how Harding affected the Coolidge administration.

And what I found -- and I -- I -- there are a few microfilm editions of the papers. I found one at Cal State Hayward (ph), which was as close as I could get on my side of the Mississippi, a set of the papers. So I used those extensively because I`d never had a chance to look at them all these years.

Then there were a couple secondary works that had been very good. But the best source is -- I went to the PhD dissertations, who`d been done after `64. And they had all been based on the papers, and they became a nice key for me to get into the papers. And there are -- unfortunately, only one of them is published, but the unpublished ones -- so I used those to get into doing this work.
LAMB: But from the time you had your conversation with Mr. Schlesinger until the time you finished it, what was that?
DEAN: About eight months.
LAMB: And the -- as you went through your research, what was the most useful to you, besides what you told us here, to understanding this guy? And why do you conclude that he wasn`t our worst president?
DEAN: A couple things. I had never looked -- he put together a very remarkable cabinet. He had Charles Evans Hughes (ph), who would later -- who was on the Supreme Court and then left the Supreme Court when he ran for president and then went back on the Supreme Court, one of the finest minds on the Court.
LAMB: Wilson beat him.
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: Charles Evans Hughes.
LAMB: OK.
DEAN: Yes. And then Hughes, as I say, returned to the Court and served -- excuse me -- with great distinction. And so when I read his biography, it`s a two-volume biography, he talks about Harding. Because he was secretary of state for Harding, he was sort of the -- he is the senior member of the cabinet, and he would give the eulogy in Congress. And at the time he wrote his -- I read this in the biography -- his -- there was still thought that he was presidential timber and would run for president and that he should sort of back off a little bit because some of the -- the corruption that occurred during the Harding years in the VA Administration, Veterans Administration, and Harry Doherty (ph) would have some problems -- none of this ever really involved Harding himself. He was -- he was -- he died before all this happened. He is tagged with Teapot Dome, which occurs after he`s dead. He`s not involved in any corruption that there`s any sign of, in my estimation, and many other historians who`ve looked closely at it.
DEAN: So Hughes -- his aides are telling him, Don`t be too good to Harding in this eulogy. And Hughes says, Listen, what I have to say about Warren Harding I know firsthand. And it`s a wonderful eulogy. It`s a -- it`s a very honest eulogy. He -- Florence Harding would write him and say, I couldn`t change a sentence in what you said. And Hughes said that he had based this on the man he knew, the man he`d worked with. They had a very successful major disarmament conference. I think what -- if historians really start mining this area -- and I -- and the Hughes papers would have more on this -- I`ve not had time to ever look at those -- that there is -- this -- we have another hidden-hand presidency, like Eisenhower was later discovered to be much more involved. Warren Harding was thought to be sort of lazy and lackadaisical. Not true. Here`s a man who`s had tremendous self-confidence his entire life. He`s a man who`s succeeded by not trying to get himself out in front. He`s a man who does not toot his own horn. He has -- he really becomes president by sort of under-running rather than over-running. And I think that Hughes saw this quality in him and realized, you know, this is a fine mind. This is a good man. He`d done a nice job. After Wilson, it was a very turbulent time. We were in the aftermath of World War I. Wilson has a strike -- a stroke at the end of his presidency, so the -- the nation really is adrift when Harding comes in. The economy`s in trouble. And he`s -- Harding`s also a much -- by Wilson`s standard is a very progressive president.
LAMB: In 1920 he was elected. First, before we get to the election, how did he get the nomination in the first place from the Republicans? Where was the convention held? How many ballots were there? And who were -- I think you said there was, like, nine candidates.
DEAN: There were. Harding has always been considered a dark-horse candidate who was put there by the cabal of senators. Not so. And the famous "smoke-filled room" story came around Harding. Didn`t happen that way.

When you look at Harding`s correspondence, you know he`s playing -- Harding was a poker player and played those cards very close and loved poker, played seriously. Every game he played was a good poker game, and those were -- in the Senate, you know, he was -- he was a favored player because he was a good -- good player and won more than he lost. But he played his nomination very much the same way. He held the cards very close, knew what he had and how to play his hand.

And he and Doherty came up with a very interesting scheme, running with the -- sort of in the back of the pack. And everybody else would destroy themself by the time they got to the convention, or during the convention. And then there would be an opportunity for somebody to be the peacemaker. And that`s how Harding would get the nomination. They would go through several ballots where he would not even be in play, and then slowly Doherty released his -- you know, his -- his ballots that he had at the convention because these were not -- primaries had just started. You had just gone into direct elections in the primaries, and the bosses were having less and less influence. So you really had a very legitimate convention in those days.
LAMB: How big did he win by, and who did he beat? In 1920, he would have been, what, 55?
DEAN: Yes. He -- he -- the -- his principal candidate in the -- there was a fellow by the name -- a soldier by the name of -- of...
LAMB: Leonard Woods (ph).
DEAN: Leonard Woods, right, was the leading person. And Woods would appear in uniform at every primary thing. And he had most of the big money behind him. A fellow by the name of -- from the Procter & Gamble money had -- had been behind him. And he threatened Harding in Ohio in a primary, which really kind of annoyed Warren Harding because Harding...
LAMB: You`re talking about Leonard Woods as a -- as a Republican.
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: I was getting to the Democrat...
DEAN: Oh. Oh.
LAMB: ... who he ran against.
DEAN: Oh. He ran against the governor of -- of Ohio -- I`m sorry, it escapes my...
LAMB: Cox (ph), Jim Cox.
DEAN: Cox, right. And with Roosevelt as his running mate, Franklin Roosevelt as his running mate. And Cox was the Ohio governor and a good governor, and Harding ran one of these campaigns where, again, he understates his case. He doesn`t get nasty. He actually runs, in a sense, against Wilson`s policies, rather than against Cox, because what Cox had done -- Cox and Roosevelt had gone back to Wilson after they had gotten the nomination and said, We will run on the League of Nations. We will make that the issue. And that had been something that Harding had been on the fence about in the Senate and decided that`s a good campaign issue.
LAMB: You say 16 million votes for Harding, 9 million votes for Cox.
DEAN: Yes. It was the largest landslide at that time in history.
LAMB: Republican and Democratic House and Senate -- I mean, Republican Senate and House?
DEAN: Yes. Good coattails.
LAMB: So not too dissimilar from what George Bush has.
DEAN: Not -- well, it was -- the -- in a sense, there was one party that controlled, yes, but the Senate was much more Republican and they had much more depth. These are -- the present Congress is fairly well -- tightly balanced.
LAMB: Herbert Hoover was his commerce secretary, Andrew Mellon his treasury secretary, John Davis at Labor, Albert Fall (ph) at Interior, Harry Doherty at Justice. Did they call him also "Dockerty"?
DEAN: No.
LAMB: They did not. Where was the "Dockerty" name? Do you remember that in history?
DEAN: I don`t.
LAMB: And then Edwin Denby at Navy. You know, before we talk about what happened to the cabinet after he died and left, what were his big accomplishments?
DEAN: I`d say the largest accomplishment was his 1921 disarmament conference. It was a major event. There had been some effort in the Senate to have such a conference take place. Harding, who was purportedly supposed to be from the Senate and the cabal of the Senate, told the Senate, We`ll do this on my terms when I`m ready. And he and Charles Evans Hughes worked this out, and it went very successfully. It was a remarkably successful disarmament conference at the time. They got the reduction of capital ships (ph) substantial and a fair balance between the Brits and the U.S., and then the Japanese were the other major power at the time. So it was a -- and he really kind of pegged his foreign policy on, you know, bringing back and -- because the nation was weary from war. It had been an unpleasant war. And it was very timely. So that was his -- that was his major foreign accomplishment.

In domestic, his most lasting one, he created the Bureau of the Budget in 1920, when he first got there. It had been rejected. There had been talk of it by prior presidents. Wilson had rejected it, which is kind of interesting that a political scientist like Wilson, who had studied the Congress so many years before he even became an elected official, had -- didn`t like the way the legislation had been created. But Harding believed it. He`d been in the Senate. So he knew that there was a need for a good operation for the budget.
LAMB: But as you point out in the book about the budget that he wanted a billion dollars reduced...
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: ... in the budget. Now, back in 1921 or so, that would...
DEAN: That`s huge. That`s trillions by today`s standards. So he did a major cutback in spending. And he brought in a fellow by the name of Dawes (ph), who would later become a vice president, who -- he -- this was -- when -- he was the first director of the Bureau of the Budget. And Dawes -- they had a series of conferences over at the Department of Commerce`s auditorium. They brought them in and -- all the senior civil servant people, the supervisor level and above, as well as the cabinet. And Harding put out an order that he wanted everybody to come, and he went to the first one.

And Dawes got up there and he did a sort of a show-and-tell, at one point. He had two brooms in his hand. And he said -- he said, This broom cost X dollars, whatever it was at the time, and this broom cost Y dollars, which was much more expensive. And he explained how the military -- the Navy had these and the Army had the others. And while the Navy had a surplus, the Army had gone out and purchased all these other booms at excess cost, rather than -- because they didn`t like the binding around the top of the straw. So he said, This is -- this is never going to happen again. We`re now going to be a much more efficient government. And it made a point.

In fact, Dawes -- he took -- when he left, he took his broom and he took the sign on his door, which was a cardboard written sign, "Bureau of the Budget." He refused to even have a printed sign made for the office.
LAMB: You say he came back as vice president for Coolidge.
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: Four Supreme Court Justices in 800 days.
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: That doesn`t -- you know, Jimmy Carter didn`t have any in four years. And how big an impact did those four Justices have?
DEAN: Very large impact. He would put Taft on as Chief Justice. Taft was a former president, at that point. He would put Justices who rank -- have stood the test of time well. He -- I think that the Taft appointment is probably the most important, and then Taft -- people don`t realize how much rapport there often is between a president and a Chief Justice as to the future appointments. For example, Richard Nixon had long conversations with Warren Burger about who to select, and what have you. And I`m sure that Bill Rehnquist might well be having discussions of that nature because I think a Chief Justice is a huge -- you know, it`s -- you have to bridge the constitutional separation at some point.
LAMB: So he`s -- during his presidency -- just to recap a little bit -- he had come from the Senate. And he`s only one of two presidents that have come from the Senate.
DEAN: Right.
LAMB: John Kennedy being the other one. He`s in the White House. He`s got...
DEAN: Several have wanted to. (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: But he`s in the White House for only a little more than 800 days. Was he sick while he was in the White House at all?
DEAN: Florence Harding was very ill, and I think that -- that -- he was not physically in any way debilitated while he was in the White House. He had a -- we now know he had a bad heart. He had a bad heart all of his life. And this affected his -- he had a house doctor, White House doctor, who at one point, after he came back from a very bad bout with the flu, sent him to Florida. In fact, one of the things that Harding has been accused of in being lackadaisical was that he would go out and play golf three days a week. Well, this was actually prescribed by his doctor.

And the way Harding played golf, he almost made it an aerobic sport. I was able to find some people who actually knew how he had played, and they said no one wanted to play with him because while he was president, he would literally, you know -- another important factor, I think a telling factor, for me anyway -- I played competitive golf as a kid, and I`ve always said you could tell an awful lot about a person by playing 18 holes with him and -- as to their character. Well, Warren Harding took the lies exactly where they lied. No Mulligans. People said, No, no, no. Get -- take another -- he refused. He played exactly by the rules. But he played very quickly. He would -- he would shoot, and then he would walk very quickly to the next shot. So he actually would get his heart rate up because he knew he had to take exercise.
LAMB: Well, talk about that period again when he was president. Would any of the -- the illegitimate children and all that and Nan Britton -- was any of that in public at that time?
DEAN: No. No. It all came out afterwards.
LAMB: Was there anything about the scandals happened after he died in public at that time?
DEAN: The only one that came up at all while he was alive was the Veterans Affairs scandal, where the man he`d appointed over there was just over there bilking the place. He was selling off surplus supplies. And when Harding learned of it, he called him over to the White House and wanted to know, and he was lied to. And then he finally fired him for insubordination as soon as he had heard there was a problem.
LAMB: The only time in the book that we get any hint of your past connection with anything is when you have a little parenthetical expression. You say the most scandal before Watergate.
DEAN: Well, I made a reference -- the reference I made is that my interesting in Warren Harding was not because of Watergate, a subject about which I have more knowledge than I might wish I had, but -- and the fact that Teapot Dome -- excuse me -- Watergate had certainly surpassed Teapot Dome as the leading scandal of the 20th century. And that`s the only reference I made to it.
LAMB: How much does, 30 years later...
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: ... Watergate impact your life anymore?
DEAN: Well, it -- it obviously had a devastating impact on my life when it happened. It was a very maturing experience!
LAMB: How old were you?
DEAN: I was in my early 30s when it happened.
LAMB: And you during that time went to prison for a couple months?
DEAN: I actually technically never went to prison. I had -- I was in the witness protection program. They were worried about keeping me alive at the time. And so I was in a safe house and then spent most of that time actually in the prosecutor`s office. And it was 120 days that I was sort of in confinement, but I actually had -- I was in the witness protection program for over a year.
LAMB: Did you ever try, by the way, to get a pardon?
DEAN: Never did.
LAMB: And when you look back on -- on -- I mean, as you deal with history here and you`re reading about this scandal and -- did that bring back all those experiences?
DEAN: Well, it -- Brian, one of the things I think we don`t handle well and don`t understand well are the mechanics of scandal. And because of Watergate, I got very interested in it. I`ve watched -- in fact, the time I spent the most time in Washington since Watergate was actually during the Clinton impeachment proceeding, when I was working for MSNBC here in this building, spent -- I was back here for three months, at that point.

I have sort of taken an academic look at scandal, and there is very little academic study -- yes, there -- everybody recounts how they happen, and you have the historical take, the legal take or the morality or the ethics issues, but nobody looks at sort of the way -- the anatomy of a scandal. And I have been gathering information for years and may well do a book on this some day because we don`t understand them, and there`s a very clear pattern, where -- and today, a scandal does not happen if the media does not react. They all -- they`re mediated events today. You have to have a reaction and a negative reaction, and that controls whether you have a scandal.
LAMB: Where do you live today?
DEAN: I live in California, in Los Angeles.
LAMB: Whatever happened to Maureen Dean?
DEAN: Maureen Dean is living with me in Los Angeles.
LAMB: How long have you been married?
DEAN: We`ve been married now for three decades.
LAMB: Have you had children?
DEAN: I have a child by the first marriage.
LAMB: And where is that child?
DEAN: He`s in Pittsburgh.
LAMB: When you...
DEAN: With three granddaughters.
LAMB: And when you did this particular book and you got to the scandal part of it, what did you find -- and you mentioned this earlier. What did you find on how it related to any possible wrongdoing for Warren Harding?
DEAN: Well, I think because of my own background and experience, I wanted to make sure this man had a fair shake. And I think that`s true with any president. They -- I was very interested in how the myth of misbehavior had grown up around Harding. And when I began, I didn`t want to pick a fight with historians, as I told Arthur, but I would track down their sources and I would find it was third-hand hearsay, at best, that was being relied on, on some of these things. And I just didn`t think this was a fair way to treat a president. So that -- that`s how, in a sense, I said, I want at least what I would say would be admissible evidence in court to even make sort of a prima facie case. And a lot of historians don`t have that level of requirement in their critical thinking.
LAMB: Who did eventually go to jail, and who lost their jobs?
DEAN: The people -- in the Harding administration, there were -- only the head of the Veterans Administration and a -- and one other person. There were two people that went to jail in the Harding administration. Now, you had one, Jess Smith (ph), who was probably up to his eyeballs in misbehavior, but he committed suicide. You had...
LAMB: You have a rather descriptive version of that suicide.
DEAN: Yes. It was pretty brutal.
LAMB: What`d he do, just hang his head over a wastebasket and blow his brains out?
DEAN: Yes. That`s the best -- best situation -- and a very curious situation, another man who had worked with -- in the -- been involved in the Veterans Administration scandal had actually bought the Harding house here when -- over on Wyoming Avenue, and he committed suicide, too.
LAMB: I remember the name -- the name -- one of the names, Forbes.
DEAN: Right.
LAMB: Was he the one?
DEAN: Forbes was the head of the -- of the -- of the VA.
LAMB: And then Albert Fall was...
DEAN: Now, that was -- that happens after Harding`s death. In fact, I spent yesterday at the National Archives because I`m very fascinated with Teapot Dome. I -- I take a -- in fact, I was looking at the book there this morning, and I called Fall a bad apple. And I began to think -- after I`d published the book, I thought about that. Is that really fair? Because Fall went to prison for bribery. He was reportedly bribed by a fellow by the name of Doheney (ph), an oil man, and Sinclair. Both Sinclair and Doheney were acquitted of bribing. Fall was also a part of a conspiracy case. He was not indicted in that. As the case goes along and he gets older and he gets -- he`s very ill, he`s finally convicted of bribery.

And I thought it might -- it might be interesting to go through that trial record and see how it holds up today. And so I actually went out and started through it yesterday to -- so I could send some student in to do some copying for me because I`m just kind of fascinated to look at that scandal.
LAMB: By the way, I don`t know why I`m asking this, but there`s a Doheney Street or Avenue -- I`ve seen it when I`ve been out in California -- near where you live, out there...
DEAN: Yes.
LAMB: You -- you live in Beverly Hills?
DEAN: I do.
LAMB: Is that the same Doheney?
DEAN: The same Doheney.
LAMB: Who was he?
DEAN: Well, he was -- he was an oil man. He struck -- he was actually a friend of Albert Fall`s. They had both panned for gold before in New Mexico, and then he -- Fall had become a very successful businessman in New Mexico and had been very instrumental in bringing New Mexico into statehood and came back and represented New Mexico in the Senate. That`s where he met Warren Harding. Now, Doheney ha gone off and continued prospecting and looking for oil and struck it in California and became one of the wealthiest men in the nation at that time. And he was the one who -- he did a deal with Fall, and Fall always said that he had borrowed $100,000 from Doheney because they were old friends, which was true, and he was short. And he had told Harding when he went into the cabinet, I`m really -- this is really a stretch for me. I need to get back to work. And he would -- Fall was a very successful corporate lawyer and had big clients, and it just doesn`t seem right to me that he would be so stupid to take a bribe and so conspicuously. So I -- that`s why I want to re-look at the case.
LAMB: I get the impression from reading the book that you like the fact that you`re painting Warren Harding as a progressive. And the reason -- you can answer in just a second. But that leads me to want to ask you, after you served in Richard Nixon`s White House, where are you politically today?
DEAN: When I went back to California, I registered as an independent. Even when I worked for Richard Nixon, I had never voted a straight ticket. I am probably a fiscal conservative and somewhat of a social moderate to liberal. And that`s pretty much the way it`s always been.
LAMB: Do you, by the way -- and we only have a minute or so left. Do you talk to anybody that you were ever associated with in the Watergate years?
DEAN: Many of the people I was associated with.
LAMB: Has anybody said anything to you in the later years that, Hey, I thought you were wrong back then, but I`ve learned since that you were on target?
DEAN: I have had some people. When the -- after the tapes came out, some people have said, John, you know, we know now better what you went through.
LAMB: Do you make any efforts to listen to those tapes?
DEAN: I -- I did a book called "The Rehnquist Choice," and that was the most intense listening I had done, and they were fascinating because I -- in those tapes, I heard Nixon at his best and I also heard him at his worst.
LAMB: Where do you think he`ll end up in history?
DEAN: He`ll be haunted by the tapes throughout his history. And you know, and it`s a shame because he obviously made those never anticipating that they would be made public. They were very private conversations, and he`s got -- his guard is down. But he -- you find -- you know, this is not the man who we were used to seeing on stage, and what have you. I began to see him, as I went on as counsel, and he got relaxed with me and became more open and candid.
LAMB: But looking backwards, you put Richard Nixon above or below Warren Harding as...
DEAN: Well, I have a problem ranking presidents. I think it`s unfair to rank them. We don`t have a good criteria yet for ranking presidents. We haven`t figured that out because I`ve talked to a lot of historians who have been involved in ranking, and they have real good knowledge of some presidents, they have very little knowledge of others, but yet they rank. Harding got ranked at the bottom because very few people really knew much about him, other than the bad history. Nixon -- you know, Nixon has the potential for being ranked very high in foreign affairs and very low for some of his -- his character issues that will probably haunt him.
LAMB: It`s a short book. It`s a series of books on presidents that was edited by Arthur Schlesinger. Our guest has been John W. Dean. Here`s the cover of the book, and it`s all about Warren G. Harding. Thank you very much.
DEAN: Thank you.
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