John W. Dean likes to refer to himself as a “Nixon historian” these days, which is more or less like calling Willie Cicci the “chronicler” of the Corleone family saga.
Politico reports that House Judiciary Committee is preparing to call the “Watergate star witness and former Nixon White House counsel” to testify about the Mueller report, in “an effort to draw public attention” to the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The word “star,” often used to describe Dean, is, at best, a poetic truth. His expertise on the issue of impeachment, long sought by liberals, was acquired by helping plan one of the most infamous scandals in American political history, snitching on everyone who conspired with him and then cashing in on the fallout for the next 47 years.
It’s what someone in Cicci’s line of work might call a “racket.” Good work if you can get it.
As White House counsel, Dean had known about the eavesdropping that ended the Nixon presidency even before Nixon did. He was not some innocent man swept up in the ugly currents of history. Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Silbert accused Dean of not only being “at the center of the criminality” but also withholding crucial evidence while plea bargaining his way out of trouble.
There’s no evidence that Dean agreed to be a whistleblower because of a tortured conscience or because he wanted to preserve law and order or even because he was attempting to save the Nixon presidency, as he likes to claim. There is evidence, however, that he turned to the Feds when Nixon refused to promise him immunity from prosecution.
In a remarkable 1973 New York Times profile of Dean, the subject, freshly investigated, was depicted as an unimaginative, ethically dubious, and self-serving Yes Man who sat inside the Nixon administration without any power or authority.
His real talent? Pleasing his bosses.
“He was deeply and willingly involved in the most despicable business,” Patrick Anderson noted. “My dossier or yours may have crossed his desk, and there is no reason to doubt that he would have sent the burglars and the buggers after us if that would have pleased his boss. Yet, there is reason to believe, too, that had he served in a better Administration, he might have applied the same zeal to civil liberties, if that would have pleased his boss. He was always the chameleon.”
Whereas Chuck Colson—Nixon’s “hatchet man”–reinvented himself by finding God and helping others, Dean reinvented himself by finding a complicit media and helping himself to an alternative history.
My favorite recent bit of Dean fabulism came on heels of Donald Trump’s assertion that his own White House lawyer Don McGahn was not “a John Dean type ‘RAT.’” Dean replied that he was “actually honored to be on his enemies list as I was on Nixon’s when I made it there.”
Was Dean on Nixon’s list? Well, no doubt he was reviled by the White House once he turned on the president. Anyone who’s read about Watergate, though, is likely aware that the non-fictional Dean was sent the infamous Enemies List back in 1971.
Did he heroically run to the Justice Department? Did he leak it the news to the media? No, his office wrote a confidential memo detailing how the list could utilize “available federal machinery,” like tax audits from the IRS, “to screw our political enemies.” It was Dean who, after Nixon suggested that if he wins a second term the White House should target the president’s enemies more aggressively, responded, “That’s an exciting prospect.”
I’ve seen Dean get away with bragging about how he warned Nixon that there was “a cancer on the presidency” on numerous occasions. As the audiotape of the incident shows, Dean was referring to a political threat to Nixon, not an ethical one that threatened the office. Here he is, making the claim—while conspiracy mongering about the Russia investigation—to CNN’s Jake Tapper, who gets a kick out of the idea that Trump believes Dean, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and disbarred, might be the “villain” in this story. He was surely one of them.
Dean is a useful guest for a media that hasn’t been able to stop making insipid Watergate comparisons since Watergate itself. For Democrats, and only Democrats, Dean also serves much the same purpose he did in government. A consummate yes man.
It was in 1987 that Dean argued that Ronald Reagan’s Iran-contra scandal was worse than Watergate. Much much worse, in fact. “The Iran-contra inquiries involve matters of national security,” Dean explained at the time. “Watergate, on the other hand, involved the political security of Richard Nixon. These are Major League matters versus Little League.”
It was 2005, when Democrats were toying around with the idea of impeaching George W. Bush, that then-Sen. Barbara Boxer sent a letter presidential scholars, asking them about comments “by Richard Nixon’s lawyer John Dean that Bush is ‘the first president to admit to an impeachable offense.’”
Dean’s quote was heavily leaned on at time. Hey, if the “star” witness of Watergate says impeachment is on the table, aren’t we compelled to listen? Dean, in fact, had written an entire book—“Worse than Watergate”—making the case that both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be impeached for lying to Congress.
These days, though an independent investigation could find no evidence to support a conspiracy theory Dean helped propagate on cable news for over two years, the “star” that took down Nixon says the Mueller Report is even “more damning than Watergate.”
Now it’s conceivable that the three conservative presidents since Nixon had engaged in three scandals that were “worse” than the one that Dean, author of “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches,” had participated in. Yet, it’s harder to believe when the only impeachment he has had a problem with was the one that actually happened. The standards used by the GOP for impeaching Clinton were “absurd,” according to Dean.
Weird how all that works out.
In any event, Dean will soon testify in front of Congress and tell Democrats everything they want to hear. And Democrats, free to impeach the president for any reason they like, will pretend that the man who helped plan the Watergate cover-up offers the nation a much-needed historical perspective.
In turn, Dean will get the attention, adulation, and book sales he craves, continuing to parlay corruption into a 50-year business opportunity—which was not how Anderson of the Times saw this story ending.
“Now that he has had his moment, with his days on the televised stage before the worldwide audience over, he faces the possibility of prison,” the reporter wrote. “Whatever happens, he will no doubt in time drift from public view perhaps to the teaching or writing he always said he wanted to do. He has his footnote to history, and the rest of his life will probably be anticlimactic.”
They seriously underestimated the man.
Now, of course Dean isn’t as evil as a mafia hitman, even if his self-serving story is about as true as Cicci’s. He’s just a useful member of the family. You know how it is—when the boss tells him “push the button on a guy,” he pushes the button.