Former Democratic National Committee secretary Ida Maxwell "Maxie" Wells sobbed Thursday as she told jurors that G. Gordon Liddy's speeches linking her to a renegade theory about the Watergate break-in have damaged her reputation and may have dashed her dreams of being a university professor.
"I just feel powerless to stop him," Wells testified as Liddy watched, expressionless, from the defense table. "He has millions; I don't have millions."
Wells said depression caused by Liddy's remarks and time spent working on her lawsuit against him delayed completion of her doctorate in English literature, a degree she received last spring after 10 years of course work.
She now teaches at Baton Rouge (La.) Community College, but she told jurors in U.S. District Court that she believes her tainted reputation may have kept her from getting a university professorship.
Wells' emotional testimony came on the second day of the trial in her $5.1-million defamation lawsuit against Liddy, now a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who was convicted of orchestrating the 1972 burglary and spent five years in prison for Watergate-related crimes. Liddy has long denied the conventional theory that the break-in's purpose was to repair a bug placed in the DNC to monitor political activities.
In recent years, Liddy has advocated a revisionist view that the DNC offices were bugged to get "sexual dirt" that could be used to blackmail Democrats. He has said he believes the burglary was intended to steal pictures of prostitutes that he says were stored in Wells' desk.
He also espouses the theory that a compromising photograph of John Dean's then-girlfriend, Maureen Biner, who is now his wife, was among the pictures. The theory goes that Dean, then President Richard M. Nixon's White House counsel, wanted to get the picture to avoid embarrassment.
Dean, who is expected to testify next week, has settled a separate $150-million lawsuit against the publisher of one book espousing that theory.
Wells testified that Dean's attorneys suggested she sue Liddy for defamation. She resisted at first, she said, but then felt compelled to sue in hopes of stopping Liddy from mentioning her name in connection with the prostitution theory.
Liddy has said in at least two speeches that the burglars monitored Wells' desk in the DNC's Watergate offices from a listening post across the street at the Howard Johnson hotel.
Liddy attorney John B. Williams sparred with Wells over the specific wording of two speeches that are at the heart of her lawsuit. Williams said Liddy did not say directly that Wells arranged meetings with call girls, only that a stack of their photos was kept in her desk.
While Wells conceded Liddy did not specifically say she arranged for call girls, "a reasonable reader could infer it," she said, because she was the only person Liddy mentioned in the sentences preceding the disputed passage.
Second Day of Trial in Defamation Claim
Williams also questioned why Wells' 1972 calendar shows that she went to her office during the weekend after the break-in. Wells said she hadn't heard about the burglary and went to the office to get a book she'd been reading.
Williams asked why Wells had sued Liddy, citing several books and television news reports that mention the theory he espouses. Wells testified that none of the others has drawn such a direct link between her and the alleged ring as Liddy has.
Another former DNC secretary, Barbara Rhoden, testified Thursday that shortly after the break-in, rumors circulated about a prostitution ring. But Rhoden said the rumors focused on Wells' boss, Spencer Oliver, head of the DNC's association of Democratic state chairmen. Rhoden said she did not take the rumors seriously.
The sometimes emotional day of testimony ended on a lighthearted note. Rhoden told jurors she attended a 20-year Watergate reunion in 1992 and is helping to plan a 30-year reunion in 2002.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, who is presiding over the trial, said, "If you have another one of those reunions, you might want to think about inviting all of us--we're a part of history now."