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DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who has a cold today. My guest, Jill Wine-Banks, is a familiar face to cable TV audiences. She's appeared frequently as a legal analyst for MSNBC, often commenting on the Mueller investigation or the impeachment and trial of President Trump. But turn back the clock a few decades and you'd find her on the inside of another historic investigation into presidential misconduct. As an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation, she confronted associates of President Nixon in court and extracted evidence from White House records and presidential tape recordings.
As a young woman in an overwhelmingly male legal world, she faced demeaning comments in offices, courtrooms and the media, including a New York Times profile of her titled "A Lawyer In Miniskirts." And while she was investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up, her own house was mysteriously burglarized twice. FBI agents said a tap on her phone had been installed, then removed.
Her new memoir details her experiences in the Watergate probe and her personal struggles with a failing marriage. I spoke to her yesterday about the book called "The Watergate Girl: My Fight For Truth And Justice Against A Criminal President."
Well, Jill Wine-Banks, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's talk about your experience in the Watergate investigation. You were hired at the age of 30 for the special prosecutor's office. You are an attorney with some experience. You'd done criminal prosecutions for the Justice Department. You were, I guess, the only woman trial lawyer on the team there. How were you regarded by all of these other men - the attorneys, the agents, others?
JILL WINE-BANKS: Well, it depends on what part of my career you're talking about. When I first started at the Department of Justice, again, I was the only woman trial lawyer. And no one really knew how to deal with me because they weren't sure whether to call me a woman lawyer, which is something I've always objected to. I think that distinguishes me in a way that's unfair from any other lawyer. I was a trial lawyer, not a woman lawyer. And so I've always corrected people on that particular thing.
I really ended up being very much accepted in the Department of Justice organized crime section, but it took me over a year to get my first trial, and that was because I was not even aware - I had no role models and no one to look to. And it took me a while to realize that the men I started with were starting to try cases. We all start doing appeals, but they had moved on to trials, and I hadn't. And so I had to confront my boss and say, how come? And he said, well, because you're a girl, and you'd be much more vulnerable in a courtroom. In appeals, you're just with lawyers. But in the courtroom, you'd be with Mafia members. And I simply said, well, what didn't you notice about me when you hired me as a trial lawyer? And that's how I got my first trial.
When I got to Watergate, I had only a few years of experience.
DAVIES: But they accepted you once you were on the team?
WINE-BANKS: Oh, at Watergate, I never felt unaccepted. There were a number of episodes where you would have to say gender played a role. Judge Sirica made several, I would have to say, sexist comments. One was during my questioning of Rose Mary Woods when he said, now, ladies, we have enough problems in this courtroom without two women arguing. And that was while I was cross-examining her, not arguing with her. He also said during my cross-examination of one of the defendants, Robert Mardian, Mr. Mardian, don't you know you can never win an argument with a lady?
And part of the trial strategy for cross-examining him was to get him angry and to get him arguing with me because we really felt that if he yelled at me and showed his true personality, it would definitely hurt him much more than if he yelled at Rick Ben-Veniste. And my strategy had worked. He was getting angry. The jury was hating him. And Judge Sirica stopped him.
My law school - I went to Columbia in New York. The students there wrote a letter to him complaining about his treatment of me, and he did apologize for that.
DAVIES: Yeah. It's interesting because there are a lot of circumstances where if a lawyer says something to you in an office, you can call him on it. You don't call out a judge in public.
WINE-BANKS: No, you don't. You just smile and stand there, all the blood draining from your face and in total horror. I mean, it was very hard to be the first. And I always felt that as the first, if I screwed up that I was going to make it harder for anyone to follow me. It would be easy for someone to say, well, women just can't do it. And so I really felt that pressure to perform well so that other women could follow me.
That's been one of the things I'm proudest of is, for example, when I was general counsel of the Army - another first as a woman - my successor was a woman. And that meant that I had done a good enough job that they were willing to hire another woman.
DAVIES: All right, let's talk about the Watergate case. One of the interesting things about this is that in May of '73, when the special counsel's office is organized and you begin this criminal investigation into Nixon and his associates, the U.S. Senate forms a committee and is beginning to hold public hearings on this. And a lot had come out on this because the Watergate burglars - one of them, James McCord - had begun talking about the cover-up, in effect. What effect did it have to U.S. prosecutors to have these Senate hearings going on at the same time? Did it reinforce what you were doing? Did you learn things from it?
WINE-BANKS: It mostly complicated things, I would say. We had to be very careful to pay attention to what the Senate was doing because we didn't want them giving immunity to anyone we felt should be prosecuted. We had to make sure that no one told us one story and the Senate something else.
It did make a big difference, though, in terms of acceptance of what we were doing because you had a public disclosure of information so that the American public could hear John Dean testify. And I have to say at the time when he testified, he had no notes because he had been escorted out of the White House and had left without his diaries and messages. So he testified from memory.
DAVIES: And let's just explain for people who aren't Watergate buffs. Remind us who John Dean was - yeah.
WINE-BANKS: John Dean was the White House counsel to President Nixon. And he ended up being one of the ringleaders of the cover-up and had a very major role in doing it, although he did not know how much President Nixon knew before he started telling President Nixon.
But he testified from memory for days, and his memory was really incredibly accurate, as he testified about hush money payments and about perjury and the White House suborning perjury and about the approval of the break-in to begin with, which was done by members of the White House staff and the Committee to Reelect the President. So it was quite remarkable testimony.
And basically, if you had polled America, people believed the denials. So he said, for example, that the chief of staff had done certain things. And the chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, testified that he hadn't. And people believed Haldeman rather than Dean.
DAVIES: While Dean was telling this story to the Senate and on television to the world - I mean, I remember this very clearly - he was also talking to you in the prosecutor's office and giving you...
DAVIES: ...And was prepared to testify in court about what he knew, which was a lot and had a lot of detail. In July, a couple of months into this investigation, you discover something that practically no one knew - that Nixon had been taping his conversations. This did not come from your own investigators, right? Where did this come from?
WINE-BANKS: No, that came from the testimony at the Senate. And we heard it the same way that all Americans heard it, which was on television. Alexander Butterfield was an aide to Richard Nixon who had been instrumental in installing the taping system. And a sort of happenstance question by one of the Senate staffers on a Friday revealed this, and it remained confidential and secret until Monday, when it was publicly revealed in Senate hearings.
And Butterfield had debated with himself what he would do if he was asked, and he had said if he was asked a direct question, he would give an honest answer. He wasn't going to volunteer the information, but he was asked a direct question. And it was based on a document that had been found that sounded like it could have been a transcription of a conversation. It was not, but it led to the question of whether there was a taping system, and Butterfield said, yes, there was.
DAVIES: So, you know, you're in the position in the prosecutor's office where you've been gathering all this information. And how are you going to prove whose version is right? You hear there are tapes. And it's interesting how that impacted you. You're - the guy who was head of your team, Jim Neal, was suspicious of this, right?
WINE-BANKS: Yes. He thought that it was a trap. And I am much less skeptical. Maybe I was more naive, but I believed that it was a make or break for us. I knew that it either was going to confirm what John Dean said and make our case, or if it deviated from what he said, we would have been in serious jeopardy of not being able to prove the case because then there would have been serious doubt about his credibility. And so the only question we had was not if we would subpoena tapes, but which ones. And we foresaw executive privilege claims being raised.
DAVIES: You said that lead of your team in the special prosecutor's office thought that this revelation of a recording system might have been a trap, meaning what? What was he suspicious of?
WINE-BANKS: He, Jim Neal, thought that possibly they were either fake tapes that would exonerate the president or - I'm not really sure exactly what he had in mind, but he really thought it was a trap. He agreed we had no choice but to subpoena them because that was just how it was, and we were going to have to fight it. But I never doubted that it was legitimate. The confirmation that we got from John Dean was he was thrilled to know there was tapes because he believed he had been accurate in recounting all of the conversations he had, and he was relieved that he might be able to be proved correct. So his reaction to it led me to believe that this was good news for us.
DAVIES: Now, what's interesting, you initially request - I think - nine tapes, and you had to ask for specific dates. And this is an interesting fact that occurred to me as I read this. It helped in asking for specific dates to have White House logs, which you had been provided by whom?
WINE-BANKS: We got them from the White House. It was something that helped enormously. We had all sorts of call logs and meeting logs. And it is something that is very important in developing our case to have had that kind of information. So, for example, on one of the conversations that we subpoenaed in that first nine, we at first thought that it was from, like, 10:30 to noon. But when we checked the logs, we sent an addendum by letter to the White House saying this conversation actually took place from this time to this time. And we were very precise because we had the call logs. And we knew who came into the meeting and when they left and who entered the meeting after that person left. And it made it much easier to identify the exact times of conversations.
DAVIES: Right. And it's interesting when you compare that to the recent investigations into the Trump administration, when special counsel Mueller was looking into looking into, you know, the deeds that he was looking into it. And initially the White House did cooperate and provide a lot of documents. Once the impeachment inquiry began, they refused to honor subpoenas. It really makes a difference whether some of this basic information is provided, doesn't it?
WINE-BANKS: It does, and it's something that needs to be brought back to the Supreme Court to get a final ruling because there's no question that these are public records that should be turned over. There's no privilege and no reason not to have the witnesses and the documents. And it's very important if the American people are going to be able to know the truth and the facts. I'm very fact-based. And I can see information. People can evaluate and judge what it means to them, but at least they have the facts. And if the facts are withheld, you have nothing.
DAVIES: Jill Wine-Banks is a legal analyst for NBC. Her book about her days as a lawyer in the special prosecutor's office investigating the Watergate scandal is called "Watergate Girl." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And our guest is Jill Wine-Banks. She's an attorney and legal analyst for MSNBC. She was an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation in the early '70s. She has a new memoir called "Watergate Girl: My Fight For Truth And Justice Against A Criminal President."
You know, it's interesting. So you requested those nine tapes. The Nixon administration said, no, these are private conversations of the president's, that they're subject to executive privilege. And one of the things you write is that as this unfolded in public, his refusal to supply the tapes hurt his support even with his base of supporters. That's again, a difference from what we're seeing today, isn't it?
WINE-BANKS: Yes, although in the Watergate case, there were a lot more complications. At first, he said, this is a hoax in a witch hunt, which sounds dramatically familiar to listeners today. He also simply refused. He just said, I'm not turning them over. Eventually we went public. Archibald Cox, who was the special prosecutor, had a press conference and, in a very moving and dramatic and - full of integrity, said why we needed the tapes and why we had a legal right to have them, which led to the president ordering the attorney general to fire Archibald Cox.
The attorney general said I promised Congress I would not do it without cause, and there is no cause. I will not do it. So he was fired. And the deputy attorney general became attorney general and was ordered to fire Cox. And he also refused, and he was gone. The third person in charge was the solicitor general, who became the acting attorney general, and he carried out the order.
Three days later, public protest was so dramatic, our office and the White House were inundated with bags of mail. This is in the era before email. There were telexes, but other than telexes, there was actual postal mail that we received and the White House received that led Nixon to do a U-turn and say, OK, I'll hire a new special prosecutor. And I'll give you the tapes.
DAVIES: Right. Now, this was the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, right?
DAVIES: In October of 1973. As it happens, you were away on a wedding then, so you weren't in the office. But you did go back. And I want to just focus on that few days when, you know, two people - ranking people had been fired. The president was determined to shut down this investigation. You had an office with files and statements and all kinds of evidence. And you didn't know what was going to happen. Were you - what kinds of conversations did you have among each other, and what did you do to protect yourselves?
WINE-BANKS: Well, before this happened, in anticipation that it might, we had copied some of the most significant documents. And each of us had taken briefcases of documents to our homes and stored them there just in case. We hoped we would never have to use it because it would have been illegal because they were grand jury materials. And we didn't want to violate any of our ethics and any of the rules. But we felt that there might come a time when our morals required us to do something to protect the country and to protect democracy. Luckily, it never came to that, but we did have that at home.
After it actually happened, the discussion was, first of all, were we fired or was only Archibald Cox fired? And it appears that the office had been abolished, but we weren't actually fired. And so the discussion was, shall we quit in protest? And we basically decided, and Archibald Cox advised us, do not quit. That would give the president exactly what he wants. You know this case. You should never leave it unless you are forced out. As long as you can do your job, do it.
DAVIES: So after the Saturday Night Massacre, after Nixon fired people attempting to shut down the investigation, it wasn't successful. Leon Jaworski was appointed to - the new special prosecutor, and the case went on. You were tangling with Nixon over the tapes, whether he would supply the nine tapes. Turned out two of them, they said, were missing. And you had to have court hearings over who exactly had custody of these things and what happened to them. You end up in a couple of confrontations with probably the only woman among the Nixon insiders, Rose Mary Woods. Tell us about her.
WINE-BANKS: Rose Mary Woods was eventually called his executive assistant. At the time, she was his secretary. But she had been with him from the time he was elected to the Senate. She had met him when he was in the House of Representatives and had been very impressed with how he turned in his reimbursement forms. He thought - she thought he was extremely neat and accurate. And he was impressed with her as well and was one of the first people he hired when he became a senator and one of the first people he brought into the White House after he was elected. And she was much more than an assistant to him. She really was an adviser.
And listening to the tapes that aren't relevant to the criminal prosecution, you can hear a lot of conversations between them that show their close personal relationship. Her brother, by the way, was the sheriff of Cook County. And he - Joe Woods - exchanged suits with Richard Nixon, and she exchanged clothes with Pat Nixon. She was known as Aunt Rose by both of the Nixon girls, Tricia and Julie. And she was really a part of the family.
DAVIES: Jill Wine-Banks is a legal analyst for MSNBC. Her new book is "The Watergate Girl." After a break, she'll describe her courtroom confrontation with Rose Mary Woods about a mysterious 18-minute gap in the tape of a critical White House conversation. And Maureen Corrigan reviews the unconventional debut novel of Deepa Anappara telling a story of child kidnapping in India. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who has a cold today. We're listening to my interview with Jill Wine-Banks. She's a legal analyst for MSNBC, and she has a new memoir about her days in the 1970s as an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate investigation. It's called "The Watergate Girl." When we left off, she was talking about President Nixon's longtime secretary and executive assistant, Rose Mary Woods, who was close to the first family and an integral part of the administration.
Now, she ends up being a very important figure in this case. People would know her name because it turned out that one of the critical conversations just a few weeks - a short time after the break-in - conversations in the Oval Office had an 18 1/2-minute gap where only a hum appears on the tape, very suspicious. A lot of people in the White House had access, but she ends up on the stand having to explain this. And you were the one cross-examining her. Tell us about that.
WINE-BANKS: Rose Mary Woods was basically thrown under the bus by the White House counsel. They said we have now discovered as part of the drip, drip, drip of bad news - after the hearing on the first two missing tapes, they came back on the day before Thanksgiving and said, whoops (ph), there is a problem in a third tape. There's an 18 1/2-minute gap, and only Rose Mary Woods can explain it. And we can find no innocent explanation for it, which was really a dramatic announcement. And I had cross-examined her when she first testified about the two missing tapes as basically just a chain of custody witness because she had handled them.
DAVIES: And she was tough, wasn't she?
WINE-BANKS: She was feisty for sure. We definitely had a situation where I knew that nothing that I got from her would be easily obtained, that I was going to have to be very precise and careful in my questioning to get information. But at the first time, she wasn't suspected of having done anything. I, by some amazing coincidence, asked her questions that turned out to be devastating once we found out that she had possibly erased 18 1/2 minutes of a tape because she had told me about working on it for 29 hours at Camp David - that very tape - without ever mentioning that, oh, by the way, there was an 18-minute gap in that tape.
And she also - I had asked her about precautions that she had taken to avoid erasing. And she basically screamed at me, well, I used my head. It's the only thing I had to use. And it turned out that wasn't very effective, obviously, because the mistake was made. And when she finally was called the second time to testify, I had to give her her Miranda warnings, which is something that lawyers seldom ever do. But she was now a suspect in a criminal investigation, and so I had to do it before I could ask her any questions.
DAVIES: Right. So she ends up giving this explanation of - and people who remember Watergate will remember this - that it seems the only way she could have erased this, she said the phone rang and she went to pick up the phone but somehow kept her foot on a pedal that was connected to the recording. And then that's what caused the erasure. But what's remarkable about this is that she says, well, it was different in my - when you made a comment about that's awkward, and she says, well, it's different in my office.
DAVIES: And then you did what?
WINE-BANKS: I said, well, then let's go to your office and continue the questioning. And for some reason, the court agreed. The White House lawyers agreed. And her lawyers agreed. And so we went to the White House. It was my first time ever in the White House. And she demonstrated they would not - they, the White House - would not let us bring in a photographer.
So I had to rely on Ollie Atkins, who was the president's White House photographer. And the pictures are dramatic proof that her story didn't hold up. She also, just to make it clear, she said she had to make two mistakes. She had to push the wrong button and keep her foot on the pedal, which was a physical impossibility, certainly for 18 minutes. You might have been able to do it for one second but not for any prolonged period of time. So it just wasn't possible.
The pictures made her basically a laughingstock. There were a lot of cartoons about the Rose Mary Twist or the Rose Mary Stretch that were really hard on her, I am sure. It must have been a very devastating thing for her. I got a lot of mail from secretaries around the country saying, I've used that same equipment and it's not possible. No one could do that. It wouldn't work that way.
And then to make it even worse, when the court ordered that we have the tape investigated, we hired a group of professionals in this field, first of all, hoping that we could recover the erased material. But we couldn't. But also what they discovered was that it was not one erasure. There were multiple erasures.
DAVIES: Now, this photo, ironically taken by White House photographers, kind of made Rose Mary Woods a laughingstock because it showed her in this incredibly contorted position where she's stretching, holding her foot on a pedal and reaching for a phone. It just seems kind of ridiculous. Did you have sympathy for her?
WINE-BANKS: Probably at that moment I didn't. I have an ability to sort of compartmentalize. And I was really compartmentalized on, what questions do I have to ask while listening to her answers so that I can follow up and make sure she's not evading my questions? In retrospect, I definitely have sympathy for her because I know that she may actually believe that she did that, but she certainly didn't.
And I feel badly that the president let her believe that she did it, that the White House blamed her. They withdrew. She was represented initially by White House counsel. They withdrew that and made her hire a private attorney and - which is probably the right thing because if they actually were blaming her, ethically, they shouldn't represent her.
But I'm sure that was an expense and an embarrassment to her. She was certainly more deflated in the second hearing than when she had been called in the first time to testify about how she had handled the tapes.
DAVIES: And the 18 1/2-minute gap was never officially explained. There was a lot of speculation about it. You write in the book that you have a theory that places Richard Nixon himself as the prime suspect. Why?
WINE-BANKS: There's a lot of reasons why. He has the motive to erase it because it was the very first tape on our subpoena. Likely, in preparation for whether he was going to give them to us or not, he listened to the tapes. And logically, he would have listened to that one first. My theory is he listened to them and went, oh, this is bad. It shows that I know everything just a few days after the break-in. I can't let people hear that. So he erases it. Then he goes to the second tape and goes, oh, my gosh, they're all bad...
WINE-BANKS: ...I can't erase them all, so I'm just going to have to stonewall and refuse to turn them over.
DAVIES: Jill Wine-Banks is a legal analyst for MSNBC. Her book about her days as a lawyer in the special prosecutor's office investigating the Watergate scandal is called "Watergate Girl." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and our guest is Jill Wine-Banks. She's an attorney and legal analyst for MSNBC. She was an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation in the early '70s. She has a new memoir called "Watergate Girl: My Fight For Truth And Justice Against A Criminal President."
You know, eventually, the special counsel's office asks for 64 more tapes, and there's a battle that goes all the way to the Supreme Court. And eventually, the court rules that they must be turned over. And that meant that you and the special counsel's office got the tapes. You could hear them themselves.
And I'm just wondering, you write in the book about the people who listened to them - I mean, both you and women who were employed by the FBI later who had to transcribe hours and hours of them. The emotional impact of listening to these tapes, just share that with us.
WINE-BANKS: Even to this day I remember how devastated and disappointed I was listening because imagining can never be as bad as actually hearing the president committing crimes. And it's not just the expletives, deleted language that was disturbing, but it was the fact that in the Oval Office, these conversations were taking place about paying hush money to make sure that the Watergate burglars never said that they were hired by the White House and the Committee to Reelect, that they were told to commit perjury. One of them was told to leave the country.
And as they planned all this and used unaccounted campaign money, which led to legislation that's been undone by Citizens United, the Supreme Court case, they had so much money that they could spend it. And it's just very disturbing because I was raised to respect the president and the presidency, even if it wasn't someone that I agreed with politically. And so that was a - what I now see as a childhood vision that was just destroyed listening to the president committing crimes.
DAVIES: And you mentioned that some of the women who were transcribing the tapes just...
DAVIES: ...Literally had tears on their cheeks.
WINE-BANKS: They did. They cried because they couldn't believe what they were hearing as they listened to this horrible series of conversations. And it's available to anyone who wants to listen through the National Archives. You can listen to these tapes. And it's proof beyond doubt of the president's culpability.
DAVIES: You know, one of the things that occurred to me as I read this was the power of being the first to set a narrative in a controversy like this. And in particular, there's this tape on March 21 of 1973 where, in Nixon's office, they're talking about raising a million dollars to ensure the loyalty and silence of the Watergate burglars.
And Nixon says, yeah, we could get a million dollars. And the version that we first heard of this came from one of the president's, you know, inner circle, Bob Haldeman, at the Senate hearings in which he said, yeah, the president said, yes, we could get a million dollars, we could get it in cash, but it would be wrong.
DAVIES: Now, I paid a lot of attention to this. And I remembered that as being what he actually said - yes, we could get it in cash, but it would be wrong. When you actually got the tape, it didn't say that, did it?
WINE-BANKS: It didn't, and John Dean had told us it didn't. So we knew that it didn't say that. But again, when you listen to it and you're waiting for those words and they don't come, you not only know that Bob Haldeman committed perjury, but you also know that the president was part of a conspiracy to pay hush money. And it proves your case in a way that almost nothing else could have done.
DAVIES: But the interesting thing to me is that millions of Americans, me among them, believed that the president said it would be wrong, and that's because that was the first narrative we heard. It really matters who gets out in front of a story, doesn't it? (Laughter).
WINE-BANKS: It does. And I hate to draw parallels to today, but how can you not when you look at what Attorney General William Barr did in terms of the Mueller report and so many other things? He misled the public and withheld the actual facts until the narrative had been set and people accepted it. And then when the truth came out, people were - well, he said, and I believe that, even though that was completely untrue.
DAVIES: Just for the record, the actual quote from the tapes. The president says, "you could get a million dollars, you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. It is not easy, but it could be done. But the question is, who the hell would handle it? Any ideas on that?" Nothing about it being wrong.
DAVIES: You have a poignant description of Rose Mary Woods after Nixon resigns. After the Supreme Court insists he turn over the tapes and it's clear he doesn't have the political support to survive a trial in the Senate, he resigns. She's around a bit. Tell us a bit about what she does.
WINE-BANKS: She was moved out of her office adjacent to the Oval Office to a remote office in the Executive Office Building where she maintained a shrine to Richard Nixon until she was eventually, under President Ford, moved to a separate building, a little townhouse on Lafayette Square across from the White House. And she wasn't allowed to send mail to the president or communicate with him and eventually became - she said it was like being a B-list celebrity instead of an A-list. It's ironic, but she lived in the Watergate complex and had a nice lifestyle, eventually moving back to her hometown in Ohio and basically being out of the limelight.
I very much would have loved to have interviewed her. I would have loved to have interviewed friends of hers because I really wanted to portray her not just as the stereotypical way she's portrayed. I wanted to portray her as her friends knew her, but none of them would talk to me. They felt that I was the enemy, and I felt I just was doing my job and now would like to portray her fully. I did as much research as I could, tried so many people. Bob Woodward advised me to stop calling people and to actually knock on their door because it would be harder to slam the door in my face. And guess what? I went to interview someone who knew her quite well, and they slammed the door in my face.
DAVIES: You said that she had - when she was at the Executive Office Building in the days following Nixon's departure that she maintained a little shrine to Nixon. What was it?
WINE-BANKS: She kept all of his personal belongings exactly as they were, including an ashtray with a half-smoked cigar.
DAVIES: I wanted to just ask about the current president. I mean, it's clear that you believe from the facts and the law that impeachment and removal for office was warranted. As it turned out, you know, the refusal of the Senate to consider additional testimony and evidence and the swift acquittal of President Trump has left him in a perhaps stronger position than he might have been without it. Certainly, that's the view of Mitch McConnell, who said that this was a political blunder for the Democrats. You know, your area is law, not politics. But I'm just wondering, was it wise, do you think, for House Democrats to pursue the course they did?
WINE-BANKS: I think it was. And it's easier to say that as a nonpolitician, but I don't think that leaving a president who does the things that President Trump has done unaccountable is acceptable. And yes, his acquittal means that he is now with no guardrails and may do even worse things in the next few months before the election. And if he happens to be reelected, his second term will be even more horrible in terms of violations of the law. So I think it was the right thing to do. I don't think it leaves him any stronger. Over 80% of the country believes that there should have been witnesses, that there should have been documents, that this was a sham trial. And I think that what we're going to find is that Americans are going to hold their senators responsible for cutting this off. To me, one of the most painful things was listening to the not guilties after senators had said, well, yes, he's guilty, he's done these things. Yes, the evidence is overwhelming. They weren't just saying unimpeachable. They had to say the words not guilty, and that was just not correct.
DAVIES: Well, Jill Wine-Banks, thanks you so much for speaking with us.
WINE-BANKS: Thank you. It's been a pleasure, Dave.
DAVIES: Jill Wayne Banks is a legal analyst for MSNBC. Her new book is "The Watergate Girl: My Fight For Truth And Justice Against A Criminal President." Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews an unconventional debut novel telling a story about child kidnapping in India. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. You probably wouldn't expect humor to be a key element in a story about child kidnapping and human trafficking in India. But our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, says Deepa Anappara's debut novel, "Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line," doesn't play to conventional expectations. Here's her review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Deepa Anappara began her writing career as a journalist in her native India, focusing on children growing up in poverty. In an afterword to her debut novel, "Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line," Anappara says she was disturbed by lurid media accounts of the disappearances of children in India; by some estimates, as many as 180 children each day. Anappara turned to fiction because she wanted to return the focus to the children themselves, as well as to their resilience, cheerfulness and swagger. Noble motives don't always produce memorable fiction. In fact, fiction can be strangled by its own self-righteousness. But this is most definitely not the case with "Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line." Unpredictable, cheeky and moving, Anappara's debut is filled with the lost light of all those children who vanished. The idiosyncratic narrator of "Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line" is a 9-year-old boy named Jai. Jai lives in a basti, a sprawling slum located within an unnamed city in India. The home he shares with his parents and older sister consists of one room. It's situated in the shadows of what he calls hi-fi luxury apartment buildings with names like Palm Springs and Mayfair, where his mother and other women from the basti work as nannies and housecleaners. The most expensive possession in Jai's home is a TV, which he prizes because he's an avid fan of reality police shows. As Jai tells us in his cocky, gullible and altogether distinctive voice, my favorite shows are the ones that Ma says I'm not old enough to watch, like "Police Patrol" and "Live Crime." Sometimes Ma switches off the TV right in the middle of a murder because she says it's too sick-making. But sometimes she leaves it on because she likes guessing who the evil people are and telling me how the policemen are sons-of-owls for never spotting criminals as fast as she can. When the novel opens, Jai is presented with an opportunity to practice what he calls his detectiving skills when a classmate vanishes. Rallying to Jai's side are a pair of juvenile Dr. Watsons - Pari, a Hermione Granger-type smarty pants, and Faiz, who hails from a minority Muslim family and is especially fearful of djinns, spirits made of smokeless fire.
Week by week, more children and teenagers are snatched from the basti. Panicked residents, frustrated that the police are doing little because the victims come from poor families, begin to turn on each other. Muslims like Faiz and his family become targets of violence. It's up to Jai and his friends, or so he thinks, to find the evildoers. To do so, the trio scour the crowded bazaar and explore narrow alleys where goats clothed in old sweaters against the winter chill have covered the ground with their droppings. Jai even steals the ticket fare for Pari and himself to board the purple line train to search for their missing classmate in the city's center. Shrouding all these expeditions is an urban smog that, in the manner of Sherlock Holmes' London fog, obscures the truth.
The vivid, unruly novel Anappara wrote defies easy classification. Given the sometimes capricious exploits of its young investigators, "Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line" could conceivably be shelved in the YA mystery section. Yet Anappara also plays in a self-aware manner with the narrative; for instance, interspersing victims' first-person accounts of their disappearances within the main story. By novel's end, the tale darkens into urban noir. Even so, Jai's pliant voice retains a stubborn cheerfulness, a will to believe in the possibility of deliverance in this fallen world.
Anappara turned to fiction, and particularly crime fiction, because she wanted this difficult subject to reach readers who might be drawn in and come to empathize imaginatively with her characters. Empathy is a response to fiction that's being called into question these days, derided as too easy, mere pearl clutching. But the power of even popular literature to shake up readers shouldn't be underestimated. Over time, the novel as a form can reduce cruelty because, as the philosopher Richard Rorty argued, it expands the possibility of a democratic community imagining others as us and not them. This is a kind of moral progress, a chance for readers to get to take the purple line themselves and one stop at a time imagine and then sometimes construct a different world.
DAVIES: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line" by Deepa Anappara. On tomorrow's show, we'll talk about how Jeff Bezos built his Amazon empire and issues relating to competition, regulation and privacy now that Amazon has expanded into so many parts of American commerce, culture, law enforcement and national security. Our guest will be James Jacoby, the director of and correspondent for the new FRONTLINE documentary "Amazon Empire," which premieres Tuesday on PBS. I hope you'll join us.
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DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.