John Dean, the White House counsel during the Watergate era, told a packed Congressional hearing room today (June 10) that Donald Trump’s behavior reminds him of Richard Nixon’s.
Dean was one of four witnesses at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “lessons” from the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He spelled out what he sees as multiple similarities between the two presidents, using Mueller’s report as a guide.
Mueller’s 450-page report, made public in April, lays out multiple instances in which Trump attempted to shut down the investigation, but didn’t charge him with any crime. In a press conference on May 29, Mueller appealed to Congress to investigate Trump’s action, which Dean echoed today.
“In many ways the Mueller Report is to President Trump what the so-called Watergate ‘Road Map’ was to President Richard Nixon,” Dean said, reading from his prepared testimony (pdf). “Stated a bit differently, Special Counsel Mueller has provided this committee a road map.”
The 55-page “Watergate Road Map,” written by special prosecutor Leon Jaworski in 1974, lays out in simple language why a grand jury indicted Nixon’s co-conspirators in the Watergate break-in, and why they had concerns about Nixon’s actions. The road map was filed to a US district court judge, and later provided to the House committee investigating Nixon. It helped shape the House investigation, and includes important testimony of events before and after the Watergate break-in that led to Nixon’s resignation, as Quartz reported earlier.
Dean was considered an architect of the cover-up of the Watergate burglary, but cooperated with prosecutors and ultimately provided damning testimony on Nixon. “I did my best internally to break up the Watergate cover-up when I realized we were on the wrong side of the law,” Dean said in Congress today, noting that he was “in and out of the witness protection program for 18 months” afterward because of death threats.
Dean’s written testimony equivocated Trump’s handling of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn with Nixon’s instructions to his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman after he learned about the Watergate break in.
Dean also compared Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey to Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. He also noted parallels between Trump’s attempts to shut down the Mueller investigation via White House counsel Don McGahn to his own experience as Nixon’s counsel. “I certainly hope Don McGahn is a key witness” to this hearing, Dean said.
He also told the committee that the Trump administration is “in fast competition with what happened in the Nixon administration” when it comes to obstruction of justice. “It is quite striking and startling to me that history is repeating itself, with a vengeance.”