John W. Dean served as White House counsel for President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973. During the Watergate scandal, his Senate testimony helped lead to Nixon’s resignation. Dean has written about Watergate in his New York Times bestsellers Blind Ambition and The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It. Among his other books are the national bestsellers Worse Than Watergate and Conservatives Without Conscience. A retired investment banker, Dean is now a columnist, commentator, and teacher in a continuing legal education program for attorneys, the Watergate CLE. He is a regular political and legal commentator on CNN News.
The Science of the Authoritarian personality
- submissive followers
- “double high” followers: domineering and opportunistically submissive
My appearance before Congress helped take down a president. Will the same thing happen to Trump?Unlike Mr. Cohen, who testified in public for a day, I testified for five days. His prepared statement was about 4,000 words; mine was some 60,000 words. Nielsen reports over 16 million people watched his testimony. I am told over 80 million people watched all or part of mine.
While my testimony was eventually corroborated by secret recordings of our conversations made by Mr. Nixon, before that it was other witnesses who made the difference. I was surprised by the number of people who surfaced to support my account. The same, I suspect, will happen for Michael Cohen. The Mafia’s code of omertà has no force in public service. I have heard no one other than Roger Stone say he will go to jail for Donald Trump.
.. Mr. Cohen should understand that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, or defeated in 2020, in part because of his testimony, he will be reminded of it for the rest of his life. He will be blamed by Republicans but appreciated by Democrats. If he achieves anything short of discovering the cure for cancer, he will always live in this pigeonhole. How do I know this? I am still dealing with it.
Just as Mr. Nixon had his admirers and apologists, so it is with Mr. Trump. Some of these people will forever be rewriting history, and they will try to rewrite it at Mr. Cohen’s expense. They will put words in his mouth that he never spoke. They will place him at events at which he wasn’t present and locations where he has never been. Some have tried rewriting my life, and they will rewrite his, too.
I am thinking of people like Mr. Stone, the longtime Trump associate who worked on the 1972 Nixon campaign and so admires the former president that he has a tattoo of the man’s likeness between his shoulder blades. Mr. Stone, whom I never met while at the White House, has been indicted as part of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, on charges of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign.
He prides himself as a political dirty trickster, and he has never met a conspiracy theory he did not believe. Mr. Cohen can be sure that Mr. Stone will promote new conspiracy theories to defend Mr. Trump and himself, even if it means rewriting history. Presidential scandals tend to attract a remarkable number of dishonest “historians.”
There is one overarching similarity that Mr. Cohen and I share. He came to understand and reject Mr. Trump as I did Mr. Nixon.
Mr. Nixon first called on me regarding Watergate some eight months after the arrests of his re-election committee operatives at the Watergate. We had 37 conversations, and when I felt I had his confidence, I tried but failed to get him to end the cover-up. The day I told Mr. Nixon there was a cancer on his presidency was the day I met the real Nixon. I knew I had to break rank.
In a telephone interview, Dean said he would focus on Kavanaugh’s views on executive power and his statements about the case, U.S. v. Nixon, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to turn over secretly recorded White House tapes.
Kavanaugh’s view on the case is murky. He said in a 1999 panel discussion that “maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch . . . that was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do no fully appreciate.”
.. Dean also said he would focus on Kavanaugh’s 2009 Minnesota Law Review article, in which the federal appeals court judge wrote that a president is too busy to be distracted by civil suits and criminal investigation while in office. Kavanaugh’s view has come under scrutiny because he played the lead role in laying out the grounds for impeaching President Bill Clinton when he helped write a report to Congress for independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
.. Democrats are expected to question Kavanaugh about whether he believes that President Trump should be subject to investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
.. Democrats have expressed concern that Kavanaugh could be asked to rule on whether Mueller can subpoena Trump and force him to testimony.
.. Republicans announced Thursday that Kavanaugh will be introduced at the hearings by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, among others, and a number of his former law clerks and others will testify in his favor. Former solicitor general Theodore Olson is also slated to testify for Republicans.
The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.1
In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it
.. It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel. The president wrongly believed that Mr. McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators
.. Mr. McGahn cautioned to investigators that he never saw Mr. Trump go beyond his legal authorities, though the limits of executive power are murky.
.. the two rarely speak one on one — the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and other advisers are usually present for their meetings — and Mr. Trump has questioned Mr. McGahn’s loyalty.
.. Mr. McGahn that he has called the president “King Kong” behind his back, to connote his volcanic anger, people close to Mr. McGahn said.
.. Mr. Burck said that Mr. McGahn had been obliged to cooperate with the special counsel. “President Trump, through counsel, declined to assert any privilege over Mr. McGahn’s testimony
.. He wanted to take on Mr. Mueller directly, attacking his credibility and impeding investigators. But two of his newly hired lawyers, John M. Dowd and Ty Cobb, have said they took Mr. Trump at his word that he did nothing wrong and sold him on an open-book strategy.
.. As White House counsel, not a personal lawyer, he viewed his role as protector of the presidency, not of Mr. Trump. Allowing a special counsel to root around the West Wing could set a precedent harmful to future administrations.
.. Mr. Trump blamed him for a number of fraught moments in his first months in office, including the chaotic, failed early attempts at a ban on travelers from some majority-Muslim countries and, in particular, the existence of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
.. Mr. McGahn’s decision to cooperate with the special counsel grew out of Mr. Dowd’s and Mr. Cobb’s game plan, now seen as misguided by some close to the president.
.. Last fall, Mr. Mueller’s office asked to interview Mr. McGahn. To the surprise of the White House Counsel’s Office, Mr. Trump and his lawyers signaled that they had no objection, without knowing the extent of what Mr. McGahn was going to tell investigators.
Mr. McGahn was stunned
.. Mr. Burck has explained to others that he told White House advisers that they did not appreciate the president’s legal exposure and that it was “insane” that Mr. Trump did not fight a McGahn interview in court.
.. the White House has to understand that a client like Mr. Trump probably made politically damaging statements to Mr. McGahn as he weighed whether to intervene in the Russia investigation.
.. Mr. McGahn and his lawyer grew suspicious. They began telling associates that they had concluded that the president had decided to let Mr. McGahn take the fall for decisions that could be construed as obstruction of justice, like the Comey firing, by telling the special counsel that he was only following shoddy legal advice from Mr. McGahn.
.. McGahn told people he was determined to avoid the fate of the White House counsel for President Richard M. Nixon, John W. Dean, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal.
Mr. McGahn decided to fully cooperate with Mr. Mueller. It was, he believed, the only choice he had to protect himself.
.. “This sure has echoes of Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean, who in 1973 feared that Nixon was setting him up as a fall guy for Watergate and secretly gave investigators crucial help while still in his job,” said the historian Michael Beschloss.
.. By exerting attorney-client privilege, which allows the president to legally withhold information, they would have gained the right to learn what Mr. McGahn planned to tell investigators and what he might reveal that could damage the president. But the president’s lawyers never went through that process, although they told people that they believed they still had the ability to stop Mr. Mueller from handing over to Congress the accounts of witnesses like Mr. McGahn and others.
.. Mr. Burck and Mr. McGahn met the special counsel team in November for the first time and shared all that Mr. McGahn knew.
.. Mr. McGahn gave to Mr. Mueller’s investigators, the people said,
- a sense of the president’s mind-set in the days leading to the firing of Mr. Comey;
- how the White House handled the firing of the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; and
- how Mr. Trump repeatedly berated Mr. Sessions, tried to get him to assert control over the investigation and threatened to fire him.
.. it became apparent that Mr. McGahn and Mr. Burck had overestimated the amount of thought that they believed the president put into his legal strategy
The president’s attempted ouster of Mr. Mueller seems plainly to have been intended to squelch Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s attempts to conceal the obvious with a rank, virtually comical explanation provide additional evidence of guilty intent.
Mr. Mueller, the president argued, could not serve because, years before, he had resigned his membership at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia because of a dispute over fees; or he needed to be fired because he had worked at the law firm that previously represented Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Why strain to concoct such feeble rationales unless the truth is indefensible?
.. The threat to resign carries with it the possible implication that he saw more: a crime, even a continuing conspiracy, that he wanted to distance both Mr. Trump and himself from.
.. It’s also consistent with the Washington tradition of self-serving conduct with an eye toward ensuring that you don’t go down with the ship.
.. Mr. McGahn’s pushback starts to look like a John Dean moment in the Trump administration: the juncture when actors in the White House, including the White House counsel, began to realize that there is, in Mr. Dean’s famous phrase, “a cancer on the presidency.”
.. And they know that there is more to come, beginning with Steve Bannon’s interview with the special counsel.
.. The events it details happened over six months ago but are only now coming to light. For whose benefit? The Times report is sourced to four people
.. Some number of people in the know have decided, perhaps in concert, to drop a bombshell now, one they kept to themselves for many months.
.. Perhaps from their insiders’ perches, they see that Mr. Mueller is wrapping up a case of obstruction that the president probably cannot defend against, because he is guilty. And perhaps they are jockeying to position themselves favorably, in the belief that Mr. Trump may be impeached (if not removed from office) and that there will be a broad reckoning,
.. he has every reason to think as he looks around him that his staff is wondering who will be next to go — by discharge or criminal charge — and there is nobody whose loyalty he can be sure of
He has been mocked by President Trump as a “low level volunteer” and “proven to be a liar.”
But the fiancee of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts and is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, says he is being miscast.
“I believe history will remember him like John Dean,”
.. she indicated in an interview that she believes he ultimately will emerge as more than a bit player in the Russia probe — and that his decision to cooperate after he was arrested getting off an airplane at Dulles International Airport in July was a key turning point.
.. Without offering specifics, Mangiante said there is much more that has not yet been told publicly about Papadopoulos’ 10 months as an informal national security adviser to Trump and his interactions with a London-based professor who told Papadopoulos, according to court filings, that the Russians had “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
.. Mangiante said she has been extensively interviewed by Mueller’s team, who asked about her own brief stint working for Joseph Mifsud, the same London professor who offered to connect the young Trump aide with the Russians.
.. Mangiante accepted in July 2016 but said she only worked for the group for three months, quickly concluding that it was “a facade for something else.”
She said she never heard Mifsud discuss Russians but quit when she was asked by his partner to attend a secret meeting to discuss Iraq in Tripoli. “I thought it was very suspicious,” she said.
In Trump, Dean says he has observed many of his former boss’s most dangerous traits—obsessive vengefulness, reflexive dishonesty, all-consuming ambition—but none of Nixon’s redeeming qualities.
“I used to have one-on-one conversations with [Nixon] where I’d see him checking his more authoritarian tendencies,” Dean recalled. “He’d say, ‘This is something I can’t say out loud…’ or, ‘That is something the president can’t do.’” To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. Trump, by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.
.. “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”
.. In the four decades since Nixon resigned, Dean says, the institutions that are meant to keep a president’s power in check—the press, Congress, even the courts—have been rendered increasingly weak and ineffectual by a sort of creeping partisan paralysis.