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John Dean draws 6 parallels between the Mueller report and Watergate

John Dean
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former White House counsel John Dean, the star witness of the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings, testified on Monday before the House Judiciary Committee about 6 parallels he sees between the Watergate scandal and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of President Trump.

Why it matters: Rather than jumping into impeachment proceedings, House Democrats are seeking to "educate the public" about the Mueller report's findings through televised hearings. Many have made the case that few people have actually read the 400+ page report, and that hearing witnesses testify publicly about what Democrats' view as Trump's brazen corruption will have a potent effect on swaying public opinion.

Dean's parallels

1. Mueller report: When Trump learned that his national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI about his Russian contacts, he told FBI director James Comey in the Oval Office: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go."

  • Watergate: When Nixon learned of his re-election committee’s involvement in the Watergate break-in, he told his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to have the CIA ask the FBI not to continue the investigation for the sake of the country.

2. Mueller report: Trump admitted in a television interview that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

  • Watergate: Dean compared this to the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Nixon fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general for refusing to carry out an order to remove special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

3. Mueller report: After the press reported that White House counsel Don McGahn had threatened to resign over Trump's order to fire Mueller, Trump directed McGahn to create a false paper trail in order dispute the stories.

  • Watergate: Dean wrote that this incident was much like "Nixon's attempt to get me to write a phony report exonerating the White House from any involvement in Watergate." Dean also said that Nixon sought to influence his testimony after he began cooperating with prosecutors.

4. Mueller report: In addition to McGahn, Trump also pressured former campaign aide Cory Lewandowski and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself and take control of the Mueller investigation.

  • Watergate: Dean said that Nixon attempted to exert control over the Watergate investigation through his former counsel John Ehrlichman and top DOJ official Henry Petersen.

5. Mueller report: After news broke of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower, the president dictated a misleading statement that characterized the meeting as about adoptions.

  • Watergate: After the Watergate break-in, Nixon's aides drafted a false press release that claimed the burglars were not operating "on our behalf or with our consent." Tapes later revealed that Nixon knew the statement was false and suspected that his attorney general had approved the operation.

6. Mueller report: There is evidence that Trump may have "dangled pardons or offered other favorable treatment to Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone" in return for their silence.

  • Watergate: Nixon also dangled presidential pardons to keep witnesses from fully testifying, which he admitted was improper in a conversation with Dean.

The bottom line, according to Dean: Neither the Watergate investigation nor the Mueller probe established that Nixon or Trump conspired to commit the underlying crime (Russian interference in one case and the DNC break-in in the other). Yet Dean argues that "events in both 1972 and 2016 resulted in obstruction of the investigations."