Former White House counsel Dean describes parallels between Trump, Nixon

By JOHN WAGNER AND RACHAEL BADE | The Washington Post | Published: June 10, 2019

WASHINGTON — Former White House counsel John Dean testified Monday about parallels between President Donald Trump and Dean’s former boss, President Richard Nixon, at the first hearing of the House Judiciary Committee aimed at understanding Robert Mueller’s findings.

“In many ways, the Mueller report is to President Trump what the so-called Watergate road map … was to President Richard Nixon,” said Dean, whose congressional testimony in 1973 ultimately led to the resignation of Nixon. “Special counsel Mueller has provided this committee with a road map.”

While acknowledging he was not a “fact witness” on the Mueller report, Dean highlighted similarities he saw between the two presidents, particularly on the matter of pardons and whether they were used to obstruct justice.

Mueller identified 10 potential cases of obstruction of justice by Trump in his report, but the former special counsel said his office could neither clear nor accuse Trump of obstructing his investigation, citing a long-standing Justice Department opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Committee Republicans mocked Democrats for bringing in Dean — a name from a bygone era who has a CNN contract — and several other former U.S. attorneys who have TV contracts. Rep. Douglas Collins, R-Ga., the top GOP lawmaker on the panel, said if Democrats really cared about stopping Russian interference in future elections, the committee would be asking experts — not cable commentators — to testify.

“I can catch your testimony on TV!” Collins said to the witnesses before pivoting to Dean, specifically. “This committee is hearing from the ’70s and they want their star witness back.”

He added, “Here we are again, with priorities in this committee turned upside down.”

Dean said the last time he testified before the House Judiciary Committee was July 11, 1974, nearly 45 years ago. Seven of the committee’s 41 members were born after his testimony.

The criticism underscores the problem Democrats face in trying to draw attention to Mueller’s findings, particularly because Trump has blocked former White House aides from testifying. Mueller himself also has refused so far to agree to a date to testify publicly, privately expressing worries about being used politically by partisans on both sides.

Democrats have struggled to create blockbuster moments like the one in which Dean turned on his former boss and helped bring down a president. Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn, in fact, has refused to testify because the White House told him not to.

Democrats convened the hearing two hours after the panel announced it reached a deal with the Justice Department to obtain “key evidence” related to Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice.

Under the agreement, the panel will have access to interview notes, firsthand accounts and other evidence, according to the chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who announced that he would not move to hold Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt of Congress.

The House on Tuesday, however, will vote on whether to authorize the panel to take Barr to civil court to enforce a subpoena for the underlying documents should the documents prove insufficient to investigations.

The 448-page, redacted Mueller report was released on April 18.

Earlier in the day, Trump lashed out at Dean, calling him a “sleazebag” ahead of his appearance at a House hearing.

In tweets, Trump also took aim at House Democrats for continuing to focus on the report by Mueller that details findings of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as well as possible episodes of obstruction of the probe by Trump.

In tweets Sunday night that he retweeted early Monday, Trump claimed that Democrats were “devastated” by Mueller’s findings.

“The Mueller Report was a disaster for them,” Trump wrote. “But they want a Redo, or Do Over. They are even bringing in @CNN sleazebag attorney John Dean. Sorry, no Do Overs — Go back to work!”

Monday’s hearing, convened by Nadler, is billed as “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes.” Besides Dean, two former U.S. attorneys and a legal scholar were scheduled to appear.

Appearing Monday morning on CNN, Dean said he would draw comparisons in his testimony between actions documented in the Mueller report and the Watergate scandal.

“I’m clearly not a fact witness, but I hope I can give them some context and show them how strikingly like Watergate what we’re seeing now … is,” Dean said.

He said he was not bothered by Trump’s tweets.

“He’s called me nasty names before,” Dean said. “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”

A growing number of Democrats have called for launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has continued to counsel a more deliberate course.

In public remarks May 29, Mueller said his office could not consider whether to charge Trump with a crime because of a long-standing Justice Department opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Mueller, who resigned as special counsel the same day, repeated a line in his report explaining that his team would have exonerated Trump of obstruction if it could have.

That remark emboldened Democrats who would like to see impeachment proceedings launched, despite a determination by Attorney General William Barr that Trump’s actions did not warrant obstruction charges.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also took aim at Dean on Monday during an interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

“They’re picking their lawyers from TV now,” she said of the House Democrats, adding that Dean had spoken out against Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.

“He’s not a credible person,” Conway said of Dean.

House Republicans already had started trying to discredit Dean as a witness before Trump’s tweets. For his role in the Watergate scandal, Dean pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and later was disbarred and served four months in federal prison.

“So let me get this straight,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a Trump ally, wrote in a tweet last week. “The DOJ determined that President Trump did not obstruct Justice. But to make the case that he did, @RepJerryNadler is bringing in John Dean, who was actually found guilty of obstructing justice and was disbarred as a result!”

Trump also took aim at Mueller on Monday, tweeting a video clip in which a Fox News host and his guest spoke disparagingly of the special counsel’s report.

The clip is from an episode last month of “Life, Liberty and Levin.” In it, host Mark Levin offers his assessment of the report to John Eastman, a law professor.

“So the report is really a bunch of crap, isn’t it?” Levin says.

“Well, it is,” Eastman replies.

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