‘I’m hearing from the ’70s and they want their star witness back…’
(Caroline S. Engelmayer, Los Angeles Times) Nearly five decades after he helped bring down President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, former White House counsel John Dean returned to a congressional hearing room Monday to try to reprise the role.
Dean—who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice as part of the Watergate cover-up—said Mueller’s findings paralleled the “road map” submitted by Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski in 1974.
The Senate’s Watergate Committee used that 55-page document as a guide for subsequent stages of its investigation of Nixon and his efforts to obstruct justice.
Monday’s hearing offered, thus, a flashback to a time when Congress exerted its constitutional power to rein in the executive branch, and an example of how it has struggled to get past the partisan divides of the Trump era.
Unlike the Watergate scandal, in which a clear crime had transpired, the nearly two-year Mueller investigation found that there was no evidence that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
A current investigation in the Justice Department is examining whether Democrats may have had a hand in setting up the allegations that resulted in the now-debunked conspiracy, for which they continue to accuse Trump of attempting to stage a cover-up.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee asked Dean to provide historical perspective on presidential obstruction of justice.
After declaring even before the Mueller report was released that they would continue to investigate Trump, the partisan House Democrats have made Mueller’s failure to fully absolve Trump of obstruction a key talking point in the report’s aftermath.
“There can be no question that Congress must investigate this direct attack on our democratic process,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, the committee chairman, referring to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
During the 1973 Watergate hearings, Dean detailed Nixon’s efforts to obstruct justice, disclosing closed-door meetings and conversations with the president that proved devastating to Nixon’s denials of ordering a cover-up.
On Monday, Dean focused on what he portrayed as a parallel between Trump’s and Nixon’s offers to pardon figures under investigation in exchange for their refusal to work with prosecutors.
According to the Mueller report, one of Trump’s lawyers suggested to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn in 2017 that the president might be willing to pardon them.
Dean noted that Nixon also had considered pardoning former aides facing charges, including former intelligence operative E. Howard Hunt and the burglars who broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
Some Republicans argued Monday that Dean’s testimony was not relevant to Trump or the Mueller report.
“I’m hearing from the ’70s and they want their star witness back,” said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the committee.
The hearing began shortly after the Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice came to an agreement allowing lawmakers to view some underlying evidence cited in Mueller’s report.
Nadler said he was “pleased” with the arrangement, although the House still intends to vote Tuesday to allow the committee chairman to go to court to seek civil contempt against administration figures, including Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn.
“It is my expectation that, as a result of this authorization, Mr. McGahn will testify here before long,” Nadler said.
Responding to a question from Nadler, Dean said he thought McGahn should testify.
Although McGahn provided extensive evidence to Mueller, the White House blocked him from appearing before Congress, saying it might assert executive privilege to protect his communications with the president.
Dean said he did not find that argument convincing.
“That pushes the outer limit further than I have ever seen it pushed,” he said. “I think this is a smokescreen at this point.”
(c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.