Watergate: How John Dean Helped Bring Down Nixon

Watergate: How John Dean Helped Bring Down Nixon

President Richard Nixon might have gotten away with it if it weren't for John Dean. In June 1973, Dean testified before Congress that Nixon knew about the Watergate cover-up. Not only that, Dean said he suspected there was taped evidence—and he was he right.

“There are few times in American history where the entire country is focused on one television event,” says James D. Robenalt, a lawyer and author who lectures with Dean about Watergate. “One of them was the Kennedy assassination, one of them was the moon landing, one of them was 9/11, and the other one is John Dean’s testimony. It was that important and that significant.”

Dean was Nixon’s White House counsel on June 17, 1972, the night burglars broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. He had no prior knowledge of the break-in or the White House’s involvement. Yet over the next several months, Dean became, as he put it, the “desk officer” for the Watergate cover-up.

“Everybody kind of went through him,” Robenalt says. “He did things like [facilitate payment] to the people who had been arrested to keep them quiet… Which was an obstruction of justice, because they were trying to keep witnesses from honestly and fully testifying before a grand jury about what happened.”

Dean knew that the people receiving payment were involved in the burglary. But he didn’t fully comprehend that he was committing a crime until later, after Nixon won the 1972 election. “One of the burglars called somebody in the White House and just said we’re keeping quiet because of the money that we’re getting,” Robenalt says. “And then it just hit [Dean] right in the face.”

When Dean realized that he was implicated in an illegal cover-up, he didn’t do the right thing immediately. At first, he shredded incriminating files. But on March 21, 1973, he went to the Oval Office and told Nixon there was “a cancer” on the presidency that would take them all down they didn’t stop it. Dean could tell that Nixon had no intention of coming clean, so he decided to, himself.

Before Dean testified before Congress in the Watergate hearings, Nixon called Dean into his office in the Executive Office Building to try and make sure that Dean didn’t implicate him in his testimony. However, his bizarre behavior helped precipitate his downfall.

“You know when I told you we could get a million dollars [to continue to pay the convicted burglars to remain silent] I was just kidding?” Nixon awkwardly asked at that April 15 meeting. Dean said he hadn’t thought that but he’d take his word.

Then Nixon stood up from his chair, walked over to a corner of the office and whispered, “I was wrong to promise clemency for [burglar E. Howard] Hunt when I spoke with Chuck Colson, wasn’t I?” Dean replied, “Yes, Mr. President, that would be considered an obstruction of justice.”

Dean thought it was very weird that Nixon had moved to a different of the room and whispered that question, and he wondered if Nixon had done so because he was secretly taping the conversation and didn’t want that part to be audible. When he testified in June that Nixon had knowingly obstructed justice through the Watergate cover-up, he mentioned this suspicion.

“I don’t know if a tape exists,” Dean said. “But if it does exist…I think this Committee should have that tape because it would corroborate many of the things this Committee has asked me.” Indeed, because other high-level officials lied in their Watergate testimony, the discovery of tapes would be one of the only ways Dean could back up his story about the president’s involvement.

It was just a hunch, but it led to a bombshell discovery. A few weeks later Senate investigators asked presidential aide Alexander Butterfield if he knew about any such tapes, and they couldn’t have picked a better person to question. Not only was Butterfield one of only a few people who knew about the taping system, he was actually the person who helped the Secret Service to install it at Nixon’s request.

“I’m sorry you asked,” Butterfield responded. “But, yes, there was a taping system that taped all presidential conversations.”

The tapes were what brought the whole thing down. Nixon had microphones in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, his Executive Office Building office and the Aspen Lodge at Camp David, and also recorded phone calls in the Lincoln Sitting Room. After the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to hand over the tapes to Congress in the summer of 1974, prosecutors found they corroborated Dean’s testimony and implicated the president in the cover-up.

“[Dean] was first and one of the only, actually, in the higher echelons to give honest testimony,” Robenalt says. “Other people who testified, including the chief of staff and the attorney general, they all went to jail for lying about what was going on.”

Dean made a deal where he received a reduced sentence for providing key witness testimony and pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. He served four months in prison and was disbarred from practicing law in D.C. and Virginia.

Still, some of the higher-level Watergate conspirators didn’t actually get a much harsher punishments than Dean. Former Attorney General John Mitchell and former Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman each served a year and a half in jail for their involvement.

Nixon—the center of the whole scandal—received no punishment at all. He resigned on August 8, 1974 to evade impeachment. One month later, his former vice president, Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon so that he’d never have to stand trial for his crimes, which were supported by evidence Nixon recorded himself.

For more information on one of the biggest scandals in U.S. history, tune-in to the 3-night special Watergate, premiering Friday, November 2 at 9/8c.


The legacy of Watergate

Three alumni played important roles on the Senate Watergate Committee investigating the scandal that eventually led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 9, 1974. A fourth alumnus was on the wrong side of the Senate investigation.

Gene Boyce, Walker Nolan and Lacy Presnell III served as attorneys or investigators on the staff of the Watergate Committee, officially the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, in the summer of 1973. John “Jack” Caulfield, a Nixon security aide and former Wake Forest basketball player, found himself being grilled by that committee after he offered a secret clemency deal to one of the Watergate burglars.

Boyce (’54, JD ’56, P ’79, ’81, ’89) was an assistant majority counsel on the committee and the lead investigator on the team that interviewed former White House aide Alexander Butterfield. Butterfield dropped a bombshell when he revealed that there was a secret audiotaping system in the White House. Boyce, now a prominent attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, thought the tapes would prove that Nixon wasn’t involved in the Watergate cover-up.

“My immediate reaction was ‘that clever SOB, this is going to get him off the hook, this is going to prove he’s not lying,’ ” Boyce recalled this spring. “I thought the tapes would exonerate him. Instead, it kept on building into impeachment. I don’t know what would have happened without the tapes. The truth may have come out sooner or later, but who knows?”

Walker Nolan (at left) and Gene Boyce visiting an exhibit on Watergate at the N.C. Museum of History.

Although it would be another year before the tapes were released, they proved Nixon’s downfall. Nixon fought the tapes’ release all the way to the Supreme Court before losing the case in late July 1974 he resigned two weeks later, on Aug. 9. Nolan (’65) was the committee’s expert on executive privilege and helped fight the lengthy legal battle for the tapes.

“The worst thing that could have happened was a crippled presidency, with no proof either way, and this drags on and on,” said Nolan, who later worked for Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) and is now in private practice in Washington, D.C. “The president would still have had a cloud over him.”

Presnell (JD ’76, P ’08) had just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he joined the committee staff as an investigator. He was soon traveling to Texas and Mexico to investigate money laundering by the Nixon re-election campaign to fund the Watergate break-in and other illegal operations.

A copy of John Dean’s 245-page opening statement to the Senate Watergate Committee donated by Walker Nolan to the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

He still remembers White House counsel John Dean’s stunning testimony implicating Nixon in the Watergate cover-up. “I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed anything like John Dean’s testimony,” said Presnell, who is now general counsel for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “His thorough descriptions of all those conversations (with Nixon) were powerful. Put his statement and the tapes together, those were the two most crucial things.”

When Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) was selected to chair the Watergate hearings in 1973, he recruited a staff of attorneys and investigators, many from North Carolina, to investigate the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel and office building. Boyce was temporarily living in Washington to help recently elected Rep. Ike Andrews (D-NC) set up his office. He was asked to join the committee staff because of his experience as a trial lawyer, and he had a noticeable impact. The “Southern lawyer (gave) the White House several jolts,” New York Magazine once wrote about Boyce.

Presnell had worked for Ervin during summer breaks when Ervin invited him to join the committee staff, he put his plans to attend Wake Forest law school on hold. “That was before it really blew wide-open,” Presnell recalled. “I was expecting some interesting assignments, but nothing that would have the attention of the entire country during the hearings.”

Nolan had earned his law degree from UNC and was only 30 years old, but he already had two years’ experience handling Senate hearings as counsel for Ervin’s Subcommittee on Separation of Powers. He reserved the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building for what he thought would be three weeks of hearings, not the three months the hearings lasted. “We knew it was big, but neither side (Democrats or Republicans) had any idea it would go as far as it did,” he said. “My first impression was this (the Watergate break-in) makes no sense. Nixon was running away with the election, there was no reason to do this.”

Walker Nolan has donated his personalized bound-volumes of the Watergate Committee’s final report and a copy of John Dean’s testimony to the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

The televised hearings riveted a nation throughout the summer of ’73. Nolan, wearing fashionable checkered shirts and bow ties, could often be seen sitting behind Ervin. “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s pretty exciting to live through and participate in such an exhilarating phase of history,” Nolan told Wall Street Journal reporter Al Hunt (’65) in a story published in Wake Forest Magazine in 1973.

Boyce interviewed witnesses before they appeared before the Senate committee. The flood of information, written on 3 x 5 index cards, was so overwhelming that Boyce turned to new technology – a Library of Congress IBM computer. It was the first time a Senate committee had ever used a computer in that fashion, Boyce told a newspaper reporter in 1973.

By chance, Boyce’s team drew the interview with Butterfield. Boyce still has some of his notes from that meeting, including a sheet from a pink appointment pad with “Butterfield” written on it the initial time of their meeting, “10 o’clock,” is crossed out, replaced with “2:15,” after Butterfield requested a delay to meet with his attorney.

Boyce had long suspected that White House conversations had been taped. After he subpoenaed records of White House meetings, the White House responded not only with dates of meetings and participants, but also summaries of what was discussed. How had those summaries been created months later?, he wondered. Investigators began asking White House aides if meetings were taped. When an attorney on Boyce’s team asked Butterfield — one of the few White House aides who knew about the system — he confirmed the existence of taping devices in several locations, including the Oval Office.

Beyond the obvious impact on the Watergate scandal, Boyce was more concerned that the tapes could lead to an international crisis. When Butterfield mentioned that the taping system included Aspen Cabin at Camp David, Boyce immediately remembered that Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev had stayed there only weeks earlier during a summit with Nixon. “Oh my God, we’ve secretly tape recorded Brezhnev,” Boyce remembers thinking. (There was never any evidence that foreign leaders were taped at Camp David.)

Presnell was in the committee room when Butterfield testified before the full committee several days later. “The caucus room was filled,” he recalled. “Clearly everyone who was present knew that was a pivotal moment. No one knew exactly how it would unfold, but the fact that there were tapes of these critical moments, that should tell the complete story.”

New York City police officer Jack Caulfield provided security for Richard Nixon during the 1968 Presidential campaign and later became a White House security aide.

Overshadowed by the explosive testimony of Butterfield and Dean, and prominent figures such as John Ehrlichman, Bob Haldeman and Gordon Libby, was Jack Caulfield, who was one of the first witnesses to testify before the committee. Caulfield had a compelling back story and a spy-novel worthy turn as a messenger in the post-Watergate cover-up.

A native of the Bronx, Caulfield attended Wake Forest for two years in the late-1940s on a partial basketball scholarship before dropping out because of financial problems. In his 2008 autobiography, “Caulfield, Shield #911-NYPD,” he writes that he fell out of favor with basketball coach Murray Greason when Greason caught him smoking after practice one day. Caulfied returned to New York and served in the U.S. Army before joining the NYPD. He became a decorated detective and once arrested a group of French-Canadians who were plotting to destroy the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument.

Caulfield was chief of security for Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. After Nixon was elected, Caulfield was appointed White House liaison with federal law enforcement agencies. But he also undertook covert political operations including wiretaps and tax audits against unfriendly reporters and Nixon’s political opponents. The New York Times once described him as “performing dirty tricks for the White House well before it assembled the ‘plumbers,’ as the perpetrators of the Watergate break-in were known.”

Jack Caulfield testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973.

In his autobiography, Caulfield wrote that he proposed a secret operation, dubbed Operation Sandwedge, to increase intelligence-gathering and electronic surveillance against Democrats during the 1972 presidential race. But he dismissed the idea of breaking into DNC headquarters as “too dangerous.” Some historians have called Sandwedge an early model for Watergate.

John Dean told the Watergate committee that Attorney General John Mitchell and presidential assistant John Ehrlichman rejected Caulfield’s plan an alternate plan developed by other administration officials eventually led to Watergate. In his famous “cancer on the presidency” conversation with Nixon, captured on the Watergate tapes, Dean tells Nixon that rejecting Caulfield’s plan “might have been a bad call … he is an incredibly cautious person and he wouldn’t have put the situation where it is today.”

Caulfield agreed, writing in his autobiography, “Had there been Sandwedge, there would have been no Liddy, no Hunt, no McCord, no Cubans, and, critically . . . no WATERGATE.”

Caulfield had already left the White House before the Watergate break-in to become assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. According to Caulfield’s testimony at the Watergate hearings, several months after the break-in Dean asked him to deliver messages to convicted Watergate burglar James W. McCord Jr., who was a friend of Caulfield’s.

In a series of clandestine meetings, Caulfield passed on to McCord offers of money and executive clemency from the “highest levels of the White House” if he didn’t testify against administration officials McCord refused. Caulfield was never charged with any Watergate-related crimes. He died in 2012.


On Politics: John Dean helped bring down Richard Nixon. Now he thinks Donald Trump is even worse

John Dean is a connoisseur of cover-ups, a savant of scandal, so he can more than imagine what it’s like inside the Trump White House right now.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said, presiding in a high-backed leather wing chair off the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not just for those in the headlines — political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, jack-of-many-duties Jared Kushner — but for their unsung assistants and secretaries as well.

“They don’t know what their jeopardy is. They don’t know what they’re looking at. They don’t know if they’re a part of a conspiracy that might unfold. They don’t know whether to hire lawyers or not, how they’re going to pay for them if they do,” Dean said in a crisp law-counsel cadence. “It’s an unpleasant place.”

Dean was a central figure in Watergate, the 1970s political scandal against which all others are measured, serving at the tender age of 32 as President Nixon’s White House attorney. In that capacity Dean worked to thwart investigators after the clumsy break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, then flipped and helped sink Nixon by revealing the president’s involvement in the cover-up.

It is the one thing, Dean said resignedly, for which he will be forever recalled. “I can thank you and your profession,” he said. “I was placed in a pigeonhole, and once you people put somebody in a pigeonhole, you live there. You never get out.”

Nixon, fighting vainly to stay in office, famously said a year was long enough to wallow in Watergate. For Dean, it’s been more than four decades.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served four months in a federal safe house. He was barred from practicing law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, moved to his wife’s home state of California and made his livelihood as an investment banker and regular on the lecture circuit. He has also written a shelf-load of books, including several on Watergate.

The memory that persists though, is the owlish whiz-kid lawyer, with horn-rimmed glasses and his pretty blond wife perched stoically behind him, laying out Nixon’s treachery in a dull monotone before the Senate Watergate Committee.

At age 78, he is fleshier and far more affable, with rimless glasses sliding down his nose and receding white hair combed straight back. He arrived this week in the cream-colored hotel lobby, not far from his Beverly Hills home, camera-ready in a blue blazer, striped dress shirt and red tie.

John Dean is having a moment, again.

Everyone — the BBC, Der Spiegel, the New York Times, MSNBC and on — wants to know what he thinks of Trump, of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, about the cascade of investigations that threaten to bury Trump’s presidency. He hasn’t been in this great a demand since his call for President George W. Bush’s impeachment — for condoning torture, among other perceived abuses of power — and, before that, as a ringside commentator during the Clinton-era Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“Nixon was much better prepared for the job than Trump,” Dean said, citing the former president’s service in the House, the Senate and then eight years as vice president.

Trump “just doesn’t know anything about the job, and it shows,” Dean said as a gas-fed fire flickered nearby. (It was a touch that Nixon, who famously kept a blaze going even during Washington’s blistering summers, might have appreciated.)

Both men have authoritarian personas, Dean went on, though Trump is far more narcissistic and easier to read: “We wouldn’t know Nixon as well as we do but for his taping system, where his guard is down. He reveals who he is. Trump is the same in public as he is in private.”

Dean was careful to say he has no inside information on the Trump administration, no Deep Throat, the famous Watergate leaker, funneling him tales of intrigue from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But, he said, he knows the odor of malfeasance, even from 3,000 miles away.

“I’ve been inside a cover-up. I know why we could make certain things go away and other things not go away. And that’s because some things, you just couldn’t make them disappear,” he said. He might have been roughing out a verbal draft of “Scandal Containment for Dummies.”

“I feel that’s true with the Trump people. If they could make this go away, they would. I mean, they’re not stupid. They would hire good P.R. people who would say: ‘This is how you deal with this. You make mistakes, you go out and you explain them, and people are very forgiving.’”

Dean was raised in a Republican family, and acquired his political coloration thus, but he no longer belongs to the party, calling himself an independent. “My political beliefs have not changed very much in the last 45 years,” Dean said, describing himself as a fiscal moderate and social liberal. But “just by staying in one place, today I’m way left of center.”

He hasn’t voted for the GOP candidate for president since George H.W. Bush ran against Michael Dukakis in 1988, backing President Obama and, last year, Hillary Clinton. So his observations on Trump and his cohorts and their alleged wrongdoing may be judged accordingly.

Dean firmly believes the truth about any misdeeds, if they took place, will come out much sooner than the many years it took for the full nature of the Watergate scandal to be revealed.

Unlike Nixon, “Trump is surprisingly candid about himself,” Dean said. The president’s admission that he fired FBI Director James B. Comey to relieve the pressure of his investigation into Russia and the 2016 election was, to Dean’s mind, “basically confessing obstruction of justice.”

Another appointment was looming.

His role as the Watergate whisperer and a leading expert on White House scandal was not something he sought out, Dean said, but given no choice he’s embraced it. He mused about the vagaries.

As a teenager, “I remember marching by the White House at the Eisenhower inauguration and seeing this kind of gray figure beside Eisenhower who was all smiles, his vice president, and never would it ever to occur to me that man would become president and I would help ease him out of his job,” Dean said. He smiled faintly at the memory of that distant encounter with Nixon. “You just don’t know where life is going to turn.”

With that, he slipped out a back door and headed off to his next TV appearance, this time on CNN.


Watergate History: John Dean and Richard Nixon

John Dean had an important meeting with President Richard Nixon on 21 March 1973 — 39 years ago — and it marked beginning of the end to Nixon’s presidency.

John Dean was White House Counsel at the time. He was trying to manage the scandal that was about to break wide open, a scandal caused by overzealous members of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP, but generally referred to as CREEP).

“We have a cancer within, close to the presidency, that is growing.”

That’s what John Dean told President Richard M. Nixon that morning. He was talking about the trouble they were in over the Watergate burglars. There were clear ties between the White House and the guys who got caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel.

They did it because Richard Nixon desperately wanted a second term as president, and was willing to go to great lengths to get it.

It all started, explains Dean to the president, when Dean told Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman “to see if we couldn’t set up a perfectly legitimate campaign intelligence operation,” what Dean describes as “a normal infiltration, buying information from secretaries and that sort of thing.” By the way, Dean usually refers to himself in the third person in the secret recordings made by President Nixon. These quotes are from the transcripts.

President Nixon’s top guys knew about this plan, from Bob Haldeman to John Ehrlichman (Domestic Advisor) and John Mitchell (Nixon’s Attorney General who became his campaign manager for 1972). They ended up deciding to use Gordon Liddy for their “intelligence” operation.

Liddy had helped them trash Daniel Ellsberg, who they considered a traitor, back in 1971. Ellsberg had been a Vietnam War strategist who used his position to publish the Pentagon Papers, secret documents that embarrassed the Nixon administration.

Liddy’s first plan for the CRP was “the most incredible thing I have ever laid my eyes on,” Dean tells Nixon. Liddy’s plan “involved black bag operations, kidnapping, providing prostitutes to weaken the opposition, bugging, mugging teams. It was just an incredible thing.”

So they tell Liddy to scale it back. He comes back with another crazy plan and they discuss it right there in the Attorney General’s office. Dean claims he was offended and told them to leave.

We know now that President Nixon already knew everything John Dean was telling him. It’s clear from the White House transcripts that Nixon had a habit of feigning ignorance when his advisers told him things, and this meeting is no exception.

A month later, President Nixon described this particular meeting as the first time he found out the scope of the CRP operations.

The president was concerned about paying off the Watergate guys to keep them quiet. Dean warns him that it could cost a lot of money, but more than once the president shrugs that off, telling Dean it would be easy to get a million dollars in cash.

Nixon is also concerned about how to orchestrate a plan of perjury for his underlings. He tells Dean in no uncertain terms that he won’t grant them clemency, but as it turns out, he’d already decided a month before that to use that executive power, once the heat died down. At the very least, he was dangling the promise of clemency before the burglars to keep them quiet.

Comically, the two men sit there in the president’s office, strategizing on how to avoid charges of obstructing justice — by planning how exactly they should obstruct justice.

By the end of the day, John Dean had sat in on two meetings with President Nixon. The second one occurred that evening, with Haldeman and Ehrlichman present. It was a short strategy session, with most of the discussion about how to head off any further investigation by releasing a “document” that would admit some things but not everything.

It’s by the end of the day that John Dean is realizing he will probably be hung out to dry. Just as he’d warned President Nixon that morning, that “people are starting to protect their own behind,” Dean then began to protect his own behind.

One thing they were right about. The wake of their “bad judgements” and “necessary judgements” meant to guarantee President Nixon’s re-election (which he would have easily won without all these shenanigans) caused a problem that wouldn’t go away.

Dean: “It is not going to go away, Sir!”

Nixon: “It is not going to go away.”

Two days later, Watergate burglar James McCord began to spill the beans. Haldeman and Erlichman were asked to resign. Nixon famously threw his friend John Mitchell under the bus.

Five weeks after the March 21st meeting, Dean was fired as White House Counsel. He went on to testify as a key witness against the president, and he served four months in jail for his role.

President Nixon, facing impeachment, hung on as long as possible but resigned on 9 August 1974. He was granted a full pardon by his successor, President Gerald Ford.


John Dean helped bring down Nixon -- but he says Trump is unleashing a nightmare that is far worse

As President Trump is set to accept the Republican Party’s formal renomination for president amid ongoing scandals and multiple crises, we spoke with John Dean, who served as the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973. His testimony during the Watergate scandal helped bring down Nixon. His new book is “Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers.” “I worked for the last authoritarian president we had,” Dean says. “Trump is of a different cut than Nixon. … He’s going to make Nixon look like a choir boy before it’s all over.”

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN : Well, as President Trump is set to accept the Republican Party’s formal nomination for president tonight amidst ongoing scandals and multiple crises, we’re joined by John Dean, who served as the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon from 1970 to '73. His testimony during the Watergate scandal helped bring down Nixon. Well, John Dean has a new book. It's written with Bob Altemeyer, and it’s titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers.

John Dean, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you can respond to what Pence talked about last night and what he didn’t, and, of course, the significance of the Trump presidency?

JOHN DEAN : Well, it’s quite clear what they’re doing is not new. If you go back to the reporting of Hunter Thompson, who described this kind of convention as “fear and loathing,” I think Hunter had his finger right on it. This is what we’re seeing again, Amy. They’re trying to stir up their support by, first of all, creating fear, creating uncertainty — this drives their authoritarian followers into their ranks — and a little loathing, for those prejudiced people who are also so much a part of these followers.

AMY GOODMAN : Why did you call your book Authoritarian Nightmare?

JOHN DEAN : Well, what happened — as we were finishing the book, we had already titled it Authoritarian Nightmare, and we thought we had a pretty horrid list of things that had occurred during this presidency. Then came COVID -19 and the racial unrest and the great conversation we’re having now on that issue. So, it really is a nightmare, because Trump’s followers tolerate his norm-busting, his undemocratic behavior. And that, to us, is a nightmare.

AMY GOODMAN : Very interesting, of course, tonight he’ll be on the South Lawn. They’re saying more than a thousand people will be there. Last night, the lack of masks. I mean, here you had Vice President Pence, who is head of the coronavirus task force, but his audience and Trump coming in at the end to shake people’s hands, to greet people, as well as Pence. I want to turn to a phone interview President Trump did with Fox & Friends in May after the Department of Justice dropped charges against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, even though Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador. Trump said he learned a lot from Richard Nixon during the federal investigation of his 2016 campaign ties to Russia.

AMY GOODMAN : So, John Dean, you were the man whose White House — whose Watergate testimony helped to lead to the downfall of Richard Nixon. You talk about what it’s like to work for a vindictive president. But even Nixon, you say, doesn’t have the raw lust for power that Donald Trump does. Talk about what he just said and what he’s done, and the comparisons you see between Richard Nixon then and President Trump today.

JOHN DEAN : Amy, I worked for the last authoritarian president we had. That was Nixon. I learned a lot observing, watching what I was doing right then and there. We’ve had very few authoritarian presidents, depending on exactly how you define them, but as generally social science looks at these people: Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and now Donald Trump. There’s a very unique governing style in these people. And that is, they don’t really want to hear anything from their aides other than obedience. And we’re seeing that at this time.

The lesson that he learned from Nixon is “don’t get caught,” because Nixon was caught. And so, he said, “Well, of course, he was guilty, so that’s different than me.” Well, Nixon did not think he was guilty, but Nixon, when cornered, was willing to follow the rule of law. What concerns me about Trump, I don’t think Trump will do what Nixon did. He certainly wouldn’t concede during the impeachment proceeding that he had done anything. Richard Nixon didn’t take the country through an impeachment proceeding. So, Trump is of a different cut than Nixon. I think, in fact, Amy, he’s going to make Nixon look like a choir boy before it’s all over.

AMY GOODMAN : You said Trump should have been impeached on the first day. Why?

JOHN DEAN : Well, because, first of all, his behavior during the campaign, where he reached out and obviously colluded with Russia. We now have it by the Senate Intelligence Committee, where nine Republicans joined in in the report and show very clear collusion. This is just unprecedented. So, this president needs to go. And the only way to force him to go is for people, in a tsunami-style election, to remove him.

AMY GOODMAN : We just talked about LeBron James coming up to Washington, leaving the bubble of the basketball court to protest President Trump. Can you talk about how Nixon dealt with protests, how he cared about protests, and Donald Trump, what he does? And then talk about the Republicans who have come out, one by one, supporting Joe Biden.

JOHN DEAN : Nixon pretended not to be fazed by demonstrations, yet exactly the opposite was true. One of my jobs was to monitor demonstrations. And during the height of demonstrations, he wanted hourly reports as to what was happening, that we would get from law enforcement. So, they did make a big impact.

The demonstrations today are not focused on the White House, and so Trump is using them as a law-and-order issue to try to say that he has federal authority to go into places like Portland or Kenosha and bring peace. Well, that really isn’t his responsibility or his obligation, or should he really be doing that. We haven’t federalized law enforcement it’s state function. So, I think that what Trump is doing is he’s really pushing this because it’s a campaign issue.

His followers, the people we deal with, and we think it’s essential that Americans understand, in our book, they want to be felt — they want to feel comfortable. They want to feel a strong leader. So that’s what he’s playing to. It’s not that he knows this body of science we report on. It’s just, intuitively, he knows what to do. And that is to give them the impression that daddy’s taking care of everything.

AMY GOODMAN : You wrote this book with Bob Altemeyer, a psychology professor who’s a specialist in authoritarianism, to see why Trump’s base is so faithful to him, no matter what he does. You ask the question: Why do evangelical Christians support him, for example, despite his well-documented sexual predations? And now, of course, Jerry Falwell Jr. has just had to step down as head of Liberty University because of a sexual scandal, as well. He was an early supporter of President Trump when he was running for president, extremely significant in Trump’s success. You talk about why do many working-class Americans support him, despite the way he works against their interests. Talk more about your psychological approach to Trump, and what you think has to be done right now.

JOHN DEAN : Well, I have actually been on this subject for some years. Over a decade ago, I did a book called Conservatives Without Conscience. And Bob Altemeyer was very helpful when I was trying to understand the religious right and how they had become fairly dominant in the Republican ranks. And I discovered that’s where the authoritarian personalities, both leaders and followers, had taken over the conservative movement.

Bob Altemeyer was as stunned as I was that no one was reporting on what was happening during the primary race and the 2016 campaign when Trump was running, who his supporters were and how much science was available studying these very kinds of people and why they do what they do. It’s more than soundbites. But to understand them is to realize they’re frightened people, and there are ways to deal with them.

But the way that they are proceeding now is he’s just baiting them, and the demonstrations in the street are playing into his campaign, give me some concern that indeed this could help him to victory, if enough people think he’s going to solve the problem of demonstrations.

So, I’ve been on this issue a long time. Altemeyer has spent his lifetime. It’s a career of science. And what was, Amy, most exciting about this project is, as we started it, we didn’t how it would play out fully in the United States. Most of the experiments were done in Canada, in small university towns, with students and parents. Well, we had the Monmouth Polling Institute run a national survey. From a base of about 230,000 people, we got a good sampling of about just under a thousand people.

AMY GOODMAN : The Conman Scale?

JOHN DEAN : The Conman Scale. We gave people all the key tests, personality tests. And we found that authoritarianism is ripe and ready and certainly in play. And it explains Trump’s base.

AMY GOODMAN : Let me go to President Trump speaking to delegates at the RNC on Monday.

AMY GOODMAN : John Dean, your final comment?

JOHN DEAN : We found in the poll that about 24% to 29% of his followers will tolerate him ignoring the Constitution if he loses the election. That’s troubling.

AMY GOODMAN : John Dean, I want to thank you so much for being with us, served as White House counsel for President Richard Nixon from 1970 to ’73. His testimony during the Watergate scandal helped bring down President Nixon.

And that does it for our show. The book is called Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers.


John Dean helped bring down Richard Nixon. Now he thinks Donald Trump is even worse

John Dean is a connoisseur of cover-ups, a savant of scandal, so he can more than imagine what it's like inside the Trump White House right now.

"It's a nightmare," he said, presiding in a high-backed leather wing chair off the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not just for those in the headlines — political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, jack-of-many-duties Jared Kushner — but for their unsung assistants and secretaries as well.

"They don't know what their jeopardy is. They don't know what they're looking at. They don't know if they're a part of a conspiracy that might unfold. They don't know whether to hire lawyers or not, how they're going to pay for them if they do," Dean said in a crisp law-counsel cadence. "It's an unpleasant place."

Dean was a central figure in Watergate, the 1970s political scandal against which all others are measured, serving at the tender age of 32 as President Nixon's White House attorney. In that capacity Dean worked to thwart investigators after the clumsy break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, then flipped and helped sink Nixon by revealing the president's involvement in the cover-up.

It is the one thing, Dean said resignedly, for which he will be forever recalled. "I can thank you and your profession," he said. "I was placed in a pigeonhole, and once you people put somebody in a pigeonhole, you live there. You never get out."

Nixon, fighting vainly to stay in office, famously said a year was long enough to wallow in Watergate. For Dean, it's been more than four decades.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served four months in a federal safe house. He was barred from practicing law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, moved to his wife's home state of California and made his livelihood as an investment banker and regular on the lecture circuit. He has also written a shelf-load of books, including several on Watergate.

The memory that persists though, is the owlish whiz-kid lawyer, with horn-rimmed glasses and his pretty blond wife perched stoically behind him, laying out Nixon's treachery in a dull monotone before the Senate Watergate Committee.

At age 78, he is fleshier and far more affable, with rimless glasses sliding down his nose and receding white hair combed straight back. He arrived this week in the cream-colored hotel lobby, not far from his Beverly Hills home, camera-ready in a blue blazer, striped dress shirt and red tie.

John Dean is having a moment, again.

Everyone — the BBC, Der Spiegel, the New York Times, MSNBC and on — wants to know what he thinks of Trump, of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, about the cascade of investigations that threaten to bury Trump's presidency. He hasn't been in this great a demand since his call for President George W. Bush's impeachment — for condoning torture, among other perceived abuses of power — and, before that, as a ringside commentator during the Clinton-era Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"Nixon was much better prepared for the job than Trump," Dean said, citing the former president's service in the House, the Senate and then eight years as vice president.

Trump "just doesn't know anything about the job, and it shows," Dean said as a gas-fed fire flickered nearby. (It was a touch that Nixon, who famously kept a blaze going even during Washington's blistering summers, might have appreciated.)

Both men have authoritarian personas, Dean went on, though Trump is far more narcissistic and easier to read: "We wouldn't know Nixon as well as we do but for his taping system, where his guard is down. He reveals who he is. Trump is the same in public as he is in private."

Dean was careful to say he has no inside information on the Trump administration, no Deep Throat, the famous Watergate leaker, funneling him tales of intrigue from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But, he said, he knows the odor of malfeasance, even from 3,000 miles away.

"I've been inside a cover-up. I know why we could make certain things go away and other things not go away. And that's because some things, you just couldn't make them disappear," he said. He might have been roughing out a verbal draft of "Scandal Containment for Dummies."

"I feel that's true with the Trump people. If they could make this go away, they would. I mean, they're not stupid. They would hire good P.R. people who would say: 'This is how you deal with this. You make mistakes, you go out and you explain them, and people are very forgiving.'"

Dean was raised in a Republican family, and acquired his political coloration thus, but he no longer belongs to the party, calling himself an independent. "My political beliefs have not changed very much in the last 45 years," Dean said, describing himself as a fiscal moderate and social liberal. But "just by staying in one place, today I'm way left of center."

He hasn't voted for the GOP candidate for president since George H.W. Bush ran against Michael Dukakis in 1988, backing President Obama and, last year, Hillary Clinton. So his observations on Trump and his cohorts and their alleged wrongdoing may be judged accordingly.

Dean firmly believes the truth about any misdeeds, if they took place, will come out much sooner than the many years it took for the full nature of the Watergate scandal to be revealed.

Unlike Nixon, "Trump is surprisingly candid about himself," Dean said. The president's admission that he fired FBI Director James B. Comey to relieve the pressure of his investigation into Russia and the 2016 election was, to Dean's mind, "basically confessing obstruction of justice."

Another appointment was looming.

His role as the Watergate whisperer and a leading expert on White House scandal was not something he sought out, Dean said, but given no choice he's embraced it. He mused about the vagaries.

As a teenager, "I remember marching by the White House at the Eisenhower inauguration and seeing this kind of gray figure beside Eisenhower who was all smiles, his vice president, and never would it ever to occur to me that man would become president and I would help ease him out of his job," Dean said. He smiled faintly at the memory of that distant encounter with Nixon. "You just don't know where life is going to turn."

With that, he slipped out a back door and headed off to his next TV appearance, this time on CNN.


John Dean is Trump’s latest target. Here’s how Dean took down Nixon.

The weekend before he raised his right hand in front of the Senate Watergate Committee and swore to tell the truth about President Richard M. Nixon’s crimes, John Dean got a haircut.

“Cut it nice and clean,” Dean told the barber, according to a book he later wrote.

The barber had no idea that the hair he was clipping belonged to the former White House counsel, the man who helped cover up the Nixon campaign’s break-in of the Democratic National Committee’s offices.

“What do you think of these Watergate hearings?” the barber asked.

“They’re pretty interesting,” Dean said.

The country was riveted. People watched at work, in department stores — any place they could find a television. The barber planned to bring a TV to his shop during the upcoming week to watch Dean, who had flipped on Nixon and become a villainous character to Republicans.

“We’ll find out what the squealer has to say for himself,” the barber said.

“Right,” he said. “You know, I can’t imagine a guy lying that way about President Nixon. The guy is crazy, maybe?”

If that’s what much of the country thought of Dean, that would all change after he methodically detailed his role in the coverup, how it worked and — most important — whether Nixon knew about it.

Dean’s testimony about Nixon’s abuse of power hastened the president’s demise. Now, President Trump is attacking Dean on Twitter as he testifies in House hearings Monday.

Dean testified there were “remarkable parallels” between the Mueller report and the Watergate investigation.

He was part of a panel of experts, but his was the big name in lights — just as more than 40 years ago, when he appeared on televisions across the country in a tan summer suit and horn-rimmed glasses, and with a fresh haircut.

In 1973, Dean sat alone at the witness table, a calculated move to make clear he was speaking on his own. He had prepared his testimony for weeks, beginning with a 245-page opening statement that took almost an entire day to read. As the senators settled into their seats, Dean tried to make a joke and lighten the mood.

“I sincerely wish I could say it is my pleasure to be here today, but I think you can understand why it is not,” Dean said.

Sam Dash, chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, said, “Mr. Dean, could you please take the microphone and put it closer so we can all hear it?”

Dean did. And then he began:

Dean went on. And on. And on. He detailed the shredding of documents. He spoke of “laundering” money.” He used phrases related to organized crime, such as “deep-sixing” a briefcase of cash. And he delivered phrases that have endured in history — particularly “a cancer on the presidency,” stemming from a meeting he held with Nixon, hoping the president would end the coverup and come clean.


Who Is John Dean?

In January 1972, Dean instructed G Gordon Liddy, another Krogh appointment, to set up an intelligence operation, on an unprecedented scale, which spawned Operation Gemstone, a clandestine operation to infiltrate Democrat campaigns. This operation morphed into the Watergate break-in which Dean, in April 1972, ordered Jeb Magruder to order Liddy to initiate.

When the FBI became involved in the purposefully botched break-in and its subsequent trace of the money found on the burglars, Dean attempted to coerce director Patrick Gray to drop or curtail his investigations. When he refused to do so, Dean sat in all of the witness interviews in order to control the way the story developed and to stanch any information which might tie him to the break-in and its cover-up.

6 comments:

There is no evidence that Maureen (Mo) Biner, who at the time of the Watergate break-in was John Dean's girlfriend and later became his wife, was a call girl. However, her friend and occasional roommate, Cathy Dieter, did run a call-girl operation in the Columbia Apartments across from DNC headquarters at the Watergate building for the benefit of politicians, foreign dignitaries, and other DC big shots. There is a theory that John Dean orchestrated the second Watergate break-in to steal a client list from the desk of Ida Wells, a secretary at the DNC, that would have exposed Cathy Dieter's operation and connected Mo Biner and John Dean to it.

I agree that the mo ho story is bogus one which i believe originated with g gordon liddy. likewise, i don't believe that dean's involvement in the break-in had anything to do with a call girl operation.

When you consider the caliber of burglars involved in the break-in, it seems incongruous to think that they would be engaged in cleaning dean's dirty laundry.

dean couldn't even get l patrick gray to call off the hound dogs, so i certainly doubt that he could persuade a group of hardened murderers (cia) to help him out of a personal jam.

i am afraid that watergate was about so much more.

Liddy and several others involved in the burglary have said they always had assumed (wrongly, in retrospect) that the target was O'Brien's office. However, the electronic surveillance equipment across the street was directed at the area near Ida Wells' desk and the usually vacant Governors' conference room where phone calls were made to match Dieter's call girls with politicians and others. Also, one of the Cubans (Martinez, I recall) had on his possession when he was arrested a key to Wells' desk.

Breaking into the DNC to obtain political intelligence never made any sense to the higher-ups in the WH, including Nixon and Mitchell. It was a most likely a rogue operation, orchestrated by John Dean who then lied about its proximate purpose in his Congressional testimony and in his published memoirs.

There is, of course, the theory that the burglary was a set-up that was rigged to fail and thus discredit the Nixon White House (and especially Henry Kissinger, who had enemies in the JCS). There are also theories about the CIA connections to the burglary in which Dean's personal interest in the DNC-based call-girl list was exploited by the Agency to set up a doomed break-in attempt.

nixon and mitchell had no prior knowledge of the break-in. they had absolutely nothing to fear from mcgovern or anything to gain by burglarizing the dnc in re the 1972 election.

the ida wells angle is a red herring - it provides no insight into the operation.

watergate was an operation to remove nixon from power. one of the novo brothers, who was one of the kennedy snipers, also broke into the ellsburg psychiatrist office for the acknowledged purpose of discrediting nixon. he stated that he had done 100s of these types of operations for political dirty tricks.

john dean was a tool of the cia. egil krogh, gordon strachey, and the plumbers were the cia associated elements of the plot. but you have to remember that this was subterranean cia.

dean cased the watergate in november 1971, the type of lead times needed for sophisticated cia operations.

but there is an even greater point, namely that watergate was not a pure cia operation. it was a bush crime syndicate enterprise which included a coalition of the willing. see russ baker's family of secrets.

I agree that Nixon and Mitchell had no prior knowledge of the plan to break in to the Watergate. That was my point in describing it as a "rogue operation," at least from the standpoint of the WH (minus John Dean, of course). And I also agree that Dean was a convenient tool in a larger plan to discredit Nixon. This larger plan most likely emanated from the JCS and the CIA. But the evidence is almost overwhelming that the proximate purpose of the break in was to steal the call-girl list. It was, indeed, a "red herring" (as was the storyline that the purpose of the break in was to obtain political intelligence) to divert attention away from the people behind the scenes who were manipulating the front-line people.

i could possibly be persuaded that watergate was a jcs / cia joint operation - a thesis resting upon the moorer spy ring episode (about which i have published with much debt to len colodny). but someone would have to overcome a vast amount of prejudice on my part regarding the central involvement of the bush crime syndicate.

we will certainly disagree in part about the call girl list. i would classify it as plausible denial for the larger scheme. if that is indeed your interpretation then i stand corrected about our potential divergence.


Your guide to the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon

Find out more about the political scandal that shamed the White House and brought down President Richard Nixon, with this brief guide from BBC History Revealed Magazine to the break-in at the Watergate Hotel – and its fallout

This competition is now closed

Published: September 11, 2020 at 3:55 pm

What was ‘Watergate’?

At 2.30am on 17 June 1972, five burglars were discovered in the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, about a mile from the White House. The break-in, which took place five months before the US presidential election, sparked a series of events that changed the course of the country’s history.

Why was this burglary different to any other?

The break-in was a bungled follow-up to a forced entry the previous month, when the same men stole copies of top-secret documents and wiretapped the phones. When the wiretaps failed to work, they returned to finish the job. An FBI investigation revealed all five had links to the White House, in a chain of connections that went as high as Charles Colson, special counsel to President Nixon, and showed them to be members of the Committee to Re-elect the President – nicknamed CREEP.

What was Nixon’s response?

Keen to distance himself from the scandal, Nixon declared no-one in the White House had been involved, but behind the scenes, he was involved in a massive cover-up. His campaign paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the burglars to buy their silence. What’s more, in a flagrant abuse of presidential power, the CIA was instructed to block the FBI’s investigation into the source of funding for the burglary.

When did cracks start to appear in the cover-up?

Although Nixon won the election in November 1972, the scandal escalated. By the following January, seven men (‘the Watergate Seven’) went on trial for their involvement: five pleaded guilty, with the other two – former Nixon aides G Gordon Liddy and James W McCord – convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. Soon after, a letter written by McCord alleged that five of the defendants had been pressured into pleading guilty during their trial. Others, too, began to crack under pressure. Presidential counsel John Dean, who initially tried to protect the presidency, was dismissed in April 1973 and later testified to the President’s crimes, telling a grand jury that he suspected conversations within the Oval Office had been taped. A tug of war ensued, with Nixon refusing to relinquish the recordings to Watergate prosecutors. But, in August 1974, following moves to impeach him, he did release the tapes. the Watergate cover-up and, on 8 August, he announced his resignation, the first US president ever to do so.

Was Nixon the instigator of the whole affair?

It’s unlikely Nixon himself orchestrated the break-in: a taped conversation between the President and his Chief of Staff has Nixon asking “Who was the asshole who did?”. But his role in covering up his administration’s involvement is unquestionable. At the time, however,Nixon was able to convince the public of his innocence and he won the election with 60.7 per cent of the popular vote.

What role did the media play in the President’s downfall?

The media was instrumental in keeping the scandal in the public eye, none more so than the Washington Post. Its reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the most significant stories of the affair, and their investigation is credited with bringing down the President. Their story is portrayed in the 1974 book All the President’s Men, later a film.

Who was ‘Deep Throat’?

Woodward and Bernstein owe much of their success to a secret FBI source known as ‘Deep Throat’, who steered the pair in the right direction, allegedly urging them to “follow the money”. Deep Throat remained anonymous until 2005, when he was revealed as FBI number two, Mark Felt.

What were the consequences of Watergate?

Sixty-nine people were charged, with 48 found guilty, including Nixon’s Chief of Staff and Attorney General. Nixon continued to proclaim his innocence, declaring in 1977: “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”. He was eventually pardoned by President Ford, therefore escaping impeachment and prosecution.

This article was first published in BBC History Revealed in 2016


John Dean helped bring down Richard Nixon. Now he thinks Donald Trump is even worse

John Dean is a connoisseur of cover-ups, a savant of scandal, so he can more than imagine what it's like inside the Trump White House right now.

"It's a nightmare," he said, presiding in a high-backed leather wing chair off the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not just for those in the headlines — political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, jack-of-many-duties Jared Kushner — but for their unsung assistants and secretaries as well.

"They don't know what their jeopardy is. They don't know what they're looking at. They don't know if they're a part of a conspiracy that might unfold. They don't know whether to hire lawyers or not, how they're going to pay for them if they do," Dean said in a crisp law-counsel cadence. "It's an unpleasant place."

Dean was a central figure in Watergate, the 1970s political scandal against which all others are measured, serving at the tender age of 32 as President Nixon's White House attorney. In that capacity Dean worked to thwart investigators after the clumsy break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, then flipped and helped sink Nixon by revealing the president's involvement in the cover-up.

It is the one thing, Dean said resignedly, for which he will be forever recalled. "I can thank you and your profession," he said. "I was placed in a pigeonhole, and once you people put somebody in a pigeonhole, you live there. You never get out."

Nixon, fighting vainly to stay in office, famously said a year was long enough to wallow in Watergate. For Dean, it's been more than four decades.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served four months in a federal safe house. He was barred from practicing law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, moved to his wife's home state of California and made his livelihood as an investment banker and regular on the lecture circuit. He has also written a shelf-load of books, including several on Watergate.

The memory that persists though, is the owlish whiz-kid lawyer, with horn-rimmed glasses and his pretty blond wife perched stoically behind him, laying out Nixon's treachery in a dull monotone before the Senate Watergate Committee.

At age 78, he is fleshier and far more affable, with rimless glasses sliding down his nose and receding white hair combed straight back. He arrived this week in the cream-colored hotel lobby, not far from his Beverly Hills home, camera-ready in a blue blazer, striped dress shirt and red tie.

John Dean is having a moment, again.

Everyone — the BBC, Der Spiegel, the New York Times, MSNBC and on — wants to know what he thinks of Trump, of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, about the cascade of investigations that threaten to bury Trump's presidency. He hasn't been in this great a demand since his call for President George W. Bush's impeachment — for condoning torture, among other perceived abuses of power — and, before that, as a ringside commentator during the Clinton-era Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"Nixon was much better prepared for the job than Trump," Dean said, citing the former president's service in the House, the Senate and then eight years as vice president.

Trump "just doesn't know anything about the job, and it shows," Dean said as a gas-fed fire flickered nearby. (It was a touch that Nixon, who famously kept a blaze going even during Washington's blistering summers, might have appreciated.)

Both men have authoritarian personas, Dean went on, though Trump is far more narcissistic and easier to read: "We wouldn't know Nixon as well as we do but for his taping system, where his guard is down. He reveals who he is. Trump is the same in public as he is in private."

Dean was careful to say he has no inside information on the Trump administration, no Deep Throat, the famous Watergate leaker, funneling him tales of intrigue from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But, he said, he knows the odor of malfeasance, even from 3,000 miles away.

"I've been inside a cover-up. I know why we could make certain things go away and other things not go away. And that's because some things, you just couldn't make them disappear," he said. He might have been roughing out a verbal draft of "Scandal Containment for Dummies."

"I feel that's true with the Trump people. If they could make this go away, they would. I mean, they're not stupid. They would hire good P.R. people who would say: 'This is how you deal with this. You make mistakes, you go out and you explain them, and people are very forgiving.'"

Dean was raised in a Republican family, and acquired his political coloration thus, but he no longer belongs to the party, calling himself an independent. "My political beliefs have not changed very much in the last 45 years," Dean said, describing himself as a fiscal moderate and social liberal. But "just by staying in one place, today I'm way left of center."

He hasn't voted for the GOP candidate for president since George H.W. Bush ran against Michael Dukakis in 1988, backing President Obama and, last year, Hillary Clinton. So his observations on Trump and his cohorts and their alleged wrongdoing may be judged accordingly.

Dean firmly believes the truth about any misdeeds, if they took place, will come out much sooner than the many years it took for the full nature of the Watergate scandal to be revealed.

Unlike Nixon, "Trump is surprisingly candid about himself," Dean said. The president's admission that he fired FBI Director James B. Comey to relieve the pressure of his investigation into Russia and the 2016 election was, to Dean's mind, "basically confessing obstruction of justice."

Another appointment was looming.

His role as the Watergate whisperer and a leading expert on White House scandal was not something he sought out, Dean said, but given no choice he's embraced it. He mused about the vagaries.

As a teenager, "I remember marching by the White House at the Eisenhower inauguration and seeing this kind of gray figure beside Eisenhower who was all smiles, his vice president, and never would it ever to occur to me that man would become president and I would help ease him out of his job," Dean said. He smiled faintly at the memory of that distant encounter with Nixon. "You just don't know where life is going to turn."

With that, he slipped out a back door and headed off to his next TV appearance, this time on CNN.