In 1973, attorney John Dean sat before the Senate Watergate Committee and recounted the grimy details of the scandal that brought Richard Nixon's presidency to a premature end.
Dean ultimately pored over 600 hours of secretly recorded White House tapes and admitted he had been involved in strategic conversations about illegal activity. During the final months of Nixon's presidency, Dean testified against the commander in chief — words that helped end a presidency. Dean was granted immunity for his testimony, but still landed in prison.
Now, 44 years later, the man who experienced presidential scandal up close says he has a case of deja vu.
Dean said in an interview aired Friday that President Trump's first month in office — with its anti-media tirades and efforts to use intelligence agencies for political purposes — has “echoes of Watergate.”
I have expertise on this matter. Push back on an FBI investigation of the White House is better known as a COVER UP: https://t.co/SODcPzEMna
— John Dean (@JohnWDean) February 24, 2017
“What I see and hear … are echoes of Watergate,” he said in the interview with Democracy Now. “We don’t have Watergate 2.0 yet, but what we have is something that is beginning to look like it could go there.”
Dean is no stranger to criticizing presidents. He has been a longtime Trump critic. And he has said that President George W. Bush should have been impeached. In fact, the title of Dean's 2004 book is “Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.”
But Dean said he sees a Nixonian patina in how Trump's administration has tried to get the U.S. intelligence community to play down alleged ties with Russia. This week, several news agencies reported that the administration asked senior members of the intelligence community to counter stories about Trump associates' ties to Russia.
According to The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Adam Entous, the calls were made after FBI officials refused to do that.
Dean isn't the only Trump critic who has made this comparison.
Every time you think the Trump Administration could be semi-normal, there's something like this, and it feels like Nixon '73 all over again. https://t.co/nMliofY89Y
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 24, 2017
A reminder for Trump: Nixon also tried to stop an FBI investigation. He found out no president is above the law. https://t.co/U1QDfJ8IS5
— Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) February 24, 2017
Four decades ago, as the Watergate scandal swirled, Dean said Nixon's White House behaved in a similar fashion, trying to “use the CIA to cut off the FBI” investigation.
As details of Nixon's interactions with intelligence officials seeped out, Dean said the president tried to cover up what happened, which caused even more damage.
“What it did is it caught Richard Nixon in a lie, because he had denied he had known anything about any cover up until I told him much later, when I started having direct dealings with him,” Dean said. “And it was the lie that caught him more than that particular incident.”
Dean also said Trump's sour opinion of the media rivals Nixon's.
They just screw it up. They screw it all up. In approach, execution. They screw it up. https://t.co/hxuWvLRpq9
— Richard M. Nixon (@dick_nixon) February 24, 2017
There is one key difference: Nixon mostly kept his views private. Trump's disdain is very public.
In a sprawling news conference last week, for example, Trump bashed the media.
As The Post's Ashley Parker and John Wagner reported on Thursday's news conference: “Trump repeatedly lambasted the “fake news” media — which at one point he upgraded (or downgraded) to the ‘very fake news’ media — while promoting some dubious claims and false information,” they reported. “The media is trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges we made, and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason,” Trump said at Thursday's news conference.
Dean said “Nixon made those kind of comments, that we only know about because he had his secret taping system running and seemed to forget it was on just constantly when he was in the office.
“It would automatically go on. And he’d make those kind of attacks against the media, calling the media the enemy, saying that he was going to wiretap them and surveil them to find out who was leaking.”
In his interview, Dean delves into a bigger question: If Trump has so many parallels with Nixon, will his presidency end in similar fashion?
“The House and Senate are controlled by the Republicans, they’re not going to impeach their president,” he said. “As long as he gives them what they want and signs into legislation or signs into law a lot of the things that they’ve had in their dreams for many years, they’re not going to give him any problem. …
“Impeachment is not a legal process. It’s a quasi-legal process, but it’s primarily a political process. And we’re not there yet.”