In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive we are joined by two figures who played central roles in the fall of President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal of a generation ago, John Dean and Daniel Ellsberg. Dean served as President Nixon’s chief counsel. He exposed the government-sanctioned break-in of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the government analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers and earned himself a spot on Nixon’s enemy list. Dean and Ellsberg join us in our firehouse studio to discuss Watergate and the abuse of presidential power from Nixon to Bush. [includes rush transcript]
Today in a broadcast exclusive we are joined by two figures who played central roles in the fall of President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal of a generation ago. One of our guests, John Dean, served as President Nixon’s chief counsel. The other, Daniel Ellsberg, was a government analyst who earned himself a spot on Nixon’s enemy list.
It was Daniel Ellsberg who leaked to the press what became known as the Pentagon Papers — a 7,000 page classified history outlining the true extent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. 35 years ago this June the New York Times began publishing excerpts of the leaked documents.
The Nixon administration immediately moved to block the Times from publishing the papers but the Supreme Court eventually sided with the Times in a landmark case.
On June 28, 1971, Ellsberg surrendered to face charges of espionage. Henry Kissinger would go on to describe him as "the world’s most dangerous man" and the Nixon administration made attempts to ruin his life going so far as breaking into his psychiatrist’s office with the hope of uncovering incriminating information.
Meanwhile John Dean was on the inside of the Nixon administration. He served as White House counsel for 1,000 days of the Nixon presidency.
He was among the White House staffers implicated in covering up the break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters inside the Watergate Hotel in 1972.
Dean agreed to testify to Congress that Nixon was guilty of covering up Watergate, even though he was certain to condemn himself. Dean was eventually charged with obstruction of justice and would eventually be sentenced to 127 days in detention for taking part in the cover-up.
Today Dean has become a vocal critic of the Bush administration. His most recent book is called "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush." Daniel Ellsberg remains an advocate for greater openness in government and has supported other government whistleblowers. They both join us today in our Firehouse studio.
- John Dean, served as counsel to President Nixon. He is the author of several books including "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush."
- Daniel Ellsberg, in October of 1969 he began smuggling out of his office and xeroxing the 7,000 page top-secret study of U.S. decision making in Vietnam, known as the Pentagon Papers. He did so with the intent of revealing these secrets to Congress and the American public and in so doing, he set in motion actions that would eventually topple the Nixon presidency and end the Vietnam War. Author of "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers." He was once described by Henry Kissinger as "the world’s most dangerous man."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, John Dean has become a vocal critic of the Bush Administration. His most recent book is called Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. Daniel Ellsberg remains an advocate for greater openness in government and supported other government whistleblowers. They both join us in the Firehouse studio today. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! So, it was 33 years ago that you were in court, Dan Ellsberg. Explain what happened.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, we had been in court for four-and-a-half months at that point. A fairly boring trial. A lot of documents to go over for the press and [inaudible]. And on one morning, an announcement came in from the judge in the courtroom, a memo from Earl Silbert, the Watergate prosecutor, saying that burglars, on the orders of the White House, had broken into my former psychiatrist’s office to get information on me. Well, this came from John Dean, though some ten days earlier, twelve days earlier, the President had sat on that information for that period of time, forbidding Peter — the acting Attorney General to send it on to the judge.
But finally, they threatened to resign, because they would be involved in obstruction of justice if they didn’t send it on. So when that announcement was read in court, it was quite electrifying. For once the reporters who had been stuck in Los Angeles, while their colleagues were doing exciting things on Watergate in Washington, envisioned headlines "Watergate Meets the Pentagon Papers Trial." That was the headline they all wanted. And they dashed from their seats during the court for the payphones in the hall. It was just like the movie Front Page for the first time in the trial, and not the last time.
And three days later, Ehrlichman testified about the existence of the Plumbers, the — supposedly to stop leaks, although another of their jobs was to leak what the President wanted out, classified information, just like Bush’s selective leaking of the National Intelligence Estimate recently.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And John Ehrlichman then was —
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Ehrlichman was the domestic counsel, and Haldeman was his chief counsel. So Karl Rove kind of combines the jobs — or until recently. So they — three days later it was announced that they had been involved in this. And President Nixon that night announced the resignation of "two of the finest public servants I have ever known," Haldeman and Ehrlichman — and John Dean, who wasn’t included in those adjectives, and Richard Kleindienst, the acting Attorney General at that point. I lost several Attorney Generals, actually, in the course of that trial.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were on trial because?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I was on trial on the same kinds of charges that are being brought up today for unauthorized possession of copies of documents relating to the national security. There are several such trials coming at us now. Mine was the first in our history, prosecution of someone for a leak. As a matter of fact, I was reminding a Yale man last night there is a statue of Nathan Hale outside Yale and outside C.I.A. headquarters, which is staffed with Yale people. Nathan Hale, our first spy. And I remember saying at Yale once that it occurred to me that I’m the first American prosecuted — he was hanged — for giving secrets to Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: You were a government official.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I had been a government official. And I was now back at the Rand Corporation and consulting with the government, doing research on lessons from Vietnam. And I thought that the lessons in these 7,000 pages deserved to be known by the Senate, as well as by executive branch employees or contract employees. So I gave them to the Senate in 1969, and then to the newspapers in 1971, 35 years ago this year.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And John Dean, your recollection of your involvement and revelations about Dan Ellsberg’s situation?
JOHN DEAN: Let me correct just a minor point in the setup, where I’m involved in the Watergate break-in. I had no knowledge of the Watergate break-in.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I meant to say "cover-up."
JOHN DEAN: It was the cover-up, yes. And what was [inaudible] when we were covering up was what they had done to Dan Ellsberg, which had somewhat a color of national security. That was the way it was cast. In fact, I was forbidden to talk to anybody about what I knew about the Ellsberg break-in. At one point after I had told the President, when no one else seemed willing to tell him how serious this was, that there was a cancer on his presidency and he was going down fast, and I had hoped he would pound on the table and say, "Hey, we’ve got to stop this!" Instead, he asked me, "Well, how much is it going to cost?" I knew I hadn’t been persuasive that morning.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: To keep people quiet.
JOHN DEAN: But anyway, I had told him I was going to break rank. I wouldn’t lie for anybody. And one of the things I was carrying in my knowledge, of course, was about the break-in into Dan’s psychiatrist’s office, looking for information that could somehow discredit him.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the people who broke in, one of them was G. Gordon Liddy.
JOHN DEAN: G. Gordon Liddy.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: And Howard Hunt.
JOHN DEAN: E. Howard Hunt. And the same people who had —
AMY GOODMAN: G. Gordon Liddy, the radio commentator.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes.
JOHN DEAN: Of late. Of late.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Rehabilitated by prison.
JOHN DEAN: They had also used the same Cuban Americans that were arrested in the Democratic National Committee. That was the link and track back to the White House that the White House was quite concerned about after the Watergate break-in.
AMY GOODMAN: These were veterans of the Bay of Pigs?
JOHN DEAN: They were veterans of the Bay of Pigs. Hunt had been an operational officer at the Bay of Pigs, and these were people he recruited. And after the bungled — the second bungled burglary, if you will, where they were arrested, you know, caught red-handed, you didn’t have to dig very far to find out that they had done other things and other illegal break-ins.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the President’s reaction when you told him you were going to break ranks?
JOHN DEAN: I actually thought — well, the first person I told I was going to break rank was John Ehrlichman. I said, "You know, what’s going on is an obstruction of justice." I hadn’t been trained in the criminal law, but by then I had opened the criminal law books and realized we were really in a heap of trouble. Had I been trained in that area, my antenna may have quivered earlier. It didn’t. But as soon as I did realize, I began telling my colleagues, I said, "You know, we’re in a heap of trouble, what we are doing." And Ehrlichman’s comment was, "John, there must be something putrid in the water you’re drinking out there in Alexandria, where you live." They didn’t want to hear it. And finally, they said, "Why don’t you start dealing with the President directly on this, because we want to get on with the second term." So, I did.
And as soon as I got his confidence, I began telling him more and more just to get his reaction, and on one morning I realized I had to go in and just really lay it out, because Howard Hunt, one of the people who had been arrested or — involved in the Watergate break-in, was demanding more money. And there was no money to pay these people. We didn’t know how to do any of this. And I told him, I said, "This is going to go on forever and ever, and it’s going to cost who knows how much." And he said to me, "Well, John, how much might it cost?" And I pulled what I thought then was a hefty number out of thin air, which is $1 million. He said, "John, that’s no problem. I know where we can get $1 million."
So, when I did break rank, one of the things I thought I would do, it wasn’t a whistle blowing in the traditional sense. I thought that by coming forward I would force my colleagues to come forward and tell the truth. And Nixon might save himself, because it could only get worse, as it did get worse. In other words, it just escalated the cover-up after I broke rank. So it was somewhat naive that I thought these people would come forward. Instead, they just decided, well, we’ll make you the target of everything and try to lay it off on you. They just picked the wrong guy.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about the parallels you see today, but on the issue of your psychiatrist’s office, Dan Ellsberg, what did you understand? When was it broken into? And did you know right away? Did your psychiatrist tell you?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: No, actually. He’s dead now. I had been in regular psychoanalysis with him back in 1968 and 1969, before I — actually, during when I copied the Pentagon Papers, something he wasn’t very interested in. He was more interested in my childhood. I couldn’t get him interested.
But he understood right away when he went to his office, which was littered after the break-in and found my file taken. The one file taken out of his safe — it wasn’t a safe; it was a filing cabinet — and laid on top of it. He understood that basically — I think, by the way, they wanted to signal to me that they had broken in and that they might have whatever I might have told the psychoanalyst, my dirty dreams or whatever I might want to conceal to keep me quiet about Nixon.
They were worried about documents I might have and might reveal about Nixon’s current threats. They weren’t worried at all about what I had put out already. That was on the Democrats. Nixon loved that. In fact, he was saying, "Stuff on [inaudible], we’re going to leak it out. Now that they’re leaking, we’ll leak out the parts we want." And on my trial, he was very interested in leaking. "Leak it out. Get it out in the press. Leak it out. Understand that?" All very clear, very selective attitude toward leaking.
But when it came to leaking stuff on him, he felt the way Bush feels now about people revealing the secret detention camps in the C.I.A.: gotta find those people and stop that. That’s a current thing that refers to me. So, extra measures have to be taken. Or when Joe Wilson revealed that he had given the information, that the claims of Saddam’s trying to get uranium from Niger had no basis, immediately Karl Rove and Libby and others, the Plumbers of this day, still are set out to stop Joe Wilson’s leaks and to do that by revealing his wife’s identity, undermining his credibility and so forth. So, they were committing crimes, just as the White House under Nixon had committed crimes to stop me from telling more information. Exactly parallel situation.
And those crimes, of course, brought Nixon down, thanks to Dean’s revelation. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been known. And then to Alex Butterfield’s revealing in the White House the taping, another critical element. Even after John, I think Nixon might have survived. It was just your word against the President’s. Now, in those days, people didn’t know who to believe — John Dean or the President? You were at some disadvantage.
JOHN DEAN: Actually, I was holding up well in the polls. It wasn’t bad having corroboration on the tapes.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: But the tapes, for getting him facing prison or impeachment. They would not have impeached him on your word alone.
JOHN DEAN: No.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: So then, the tapes, of course, bore out what John had been saying. From then on, really, people understood that when the President says one thing, and somebody else says, "No, that’s not the way it happened, that’s not the truth," especially if they have documents, you shouldn’t go on the assumption that it’s the President who’s telling us the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Dan Ellsberg and John Dean. We’ll be back with them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are together on this national broadcast for the first time. John Dean served as counsel to President Nixon. His latest book is Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. And Dan Ellsberg, well, he released the Pentagon Papers, and his book is called Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. But it was on this day 33 years ago that it was revealed in court in the trial of Dan Ellsberg for releasing, leaking the Pentagon Papers, it was revealed that his psychiatrist’s office had been broken into. And that word had come from John Dean, the counsel to President Nixon. Now, this happened before Watergate, and this actually was what you believe brought down the President?
JOHN DEAN: It was the motivation for the cover-up. There was much — I am convinced to this day that the people at the re-election committee would have been cut loose by the White House had it just been the foolish break-in at the Watergate, trying to look for whatever they were looking for.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was the Democratic National Committee there.
JOHN DEAN: Democratic National Committee. But given the fact these men had worked directly out of the White House, they had worked for the so-called Plumbers unit, brought it right back to at least the Ehrlichman level, and no one was sure whether the President —- even the President had to later ask, "Was I responsible for authorizing this?" Haldeman thought he might be. We don’t know that that’s ever been on a tape. Ehrlichman claims that he got authorization walking on a beach in San Clemente to run this operation. So it’s -—
AMY GOODMAN: In the operation to break in —
JOHN DEAN: Dan Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But, in effect, the fact that there were two break-ins by the same group from the White House established this was an operational group that had the blessing and support of —
JOHN DEAN: Juan, there were almost three. And there was another one that was contemplated. In fact, it’s on tape. It’s really quite remarkable. Four times, with Nixon pounding on the desk at one point, saying he wants a break-in at the Brookings Institute where they are convinced that there’s a set of the Pentagon Papers and Brookings is going to do something with them. And so, he wants those documents. It’s really quite startling.
AMY GOODMAN: What stopped him?
JOHN DEAN: I happened to stop him. I learned about it, and I thought they had lost their mind. Somebody, Chuck Coulson, had called in a private eye who had worked in Ehrlichman’s office before he was assigned to my office. He came in and said Chuck Coulson wants me to firebomb the Brookings Institute. I said, "What?" He said "Yes," when the Fire Department comes, to send some burglars to get into the safe at the Brookings Institute and take out these papers the President wanted.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: They were going to rent a fake firetruck and go in as fake firemen.
JOHN DEAN: That was later Liddy’s plan, that he was going to design it when the first plan fell through. But it was so outrageous. I said, "Hey, don’t do anything." I got on the first courier flight to California, to the Western White House, went out, got a hold of Ehrlichman, who was both my titular head and Coulson’s, and I said, "This is insane! I mean, if somebody were to die during this, it’s a capital offense in the District of Columbia. It’s surely going to get traced right back to the White House. Do you really want us having anything like this?" And Ehrlichman calmly looked over his glasses and picked up the phone and said to the White House operator, "Get me Chuck Coulson," — Chuck came on — and said, "Young Counsel Dean is out here, and he doesn’t think the Brookings plan is a very good idea. Cancel it." And he turned to me. He said, "Anything else, counsel?" I said, "That will take care of it, John. That handles it for the morning for me."
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, that wasn’t the end. At the point when they felt I was coming out with documents on Nixon, because Senator Mike Gravel was giving secret documents on Nixon that I had given Gravel —- he was trying to put them in the congressional record -—
AMY GOODMAN: The same Senator Mike Gravel who’s now announced he’s running for president on the Democratic Party.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: He’s running for president, yes. When he was doing that, they now knew Ellsberg is putting out more stuff on us. It was just before the mining of Haiphong, which was on May 8. So on May 3, they knew I was talking about this, and they wanted that mining to be a fait accompli, a surprise to the public. They didn’t want me announcing it in advance, just as, by the way, I believe that this president is making all plans for an attack on Iran, if he does it, which is likely to be a fait accompli. He’s not going to Congress first or the U.N., and so forth. So, when people talk about that in advance, in this case they wanted to shut me up physically, not just blackmail me. So they brought, under Hunt and Liddy, again, the same Watergate people up from Miami, through the use of illegal campaign funds they had gotten, to incapacitate me totally in a speech on the Capitol. Now, that didn’t happen, because they decided they were both going to be caught. And they blew that.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, wait. Where did you hear that they wanted to "incapacitate" you?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: From William Merrill, their prosecutor, later, when this came out in 1973, just after my trial, in connection with the ending of my trial.
AMY GOODMAN: That they wanted to kill you?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, I said, "What does that mean? Kill me?" And he said, "The words were 'incapacitate you totally.'" But you have to understand these guys, C.I.A. contract employees, they never use the word "kill." So, I think they weren’t meant to kill me. Bernard Barker — "Macho" Bernard Barker is his nickname — said his personal orders were to break both my legs. I think they wanted to put me out of action for a while, for the five days until they mined Haiphong. That was all.
But here was now another crime involving an assault, at least, on an American citizen giving a speech on the steps of the Capitol — that’s where they went after me — weeks before they were caught in the Watergate. Again, this was ordered from the White House through Chuck Coulson to Jeb Magruder, saying that the man upstairs wanted this. And as Magruder said to his aide, sometimes when Coulson says that, it’s true, so we have to do it. And again then, Hunt and Liddy had information to give about a domestic crime originating in the White House. The reason that made the cover-up necessary, as John has been saying, was, as I was saying earlier, Nixon was never really directly linked to the Watergate break-in or even, I think, the enemies list. Or — I don’t know about that. Maybe he directly ordered that, but that wasn’t clearly illegal.
JOHN DEAN: Right. Right.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Or the illegal campaign contributions, he wasn’t directly linked. Mitchell and others could have talked on that, but they never did. They kept their mouths shut, as did Liddy. But they had to be kept quiet, once they were in the prosecutor’s hands, about these other domestic crimes. And as John has said, Nixon thought that the attacks on me had the color of national security. That’s what he said. That’s why he didn’t want to pass on John’s, and I think he was sincere about that. Of course, it looked pretty much like a domestic crime, beating somebody up on the steps of the Capitol.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "the color of national security"?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah, the color. By the way, the break-in to my —
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "the color"?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, it had a flavor of national security to it. I’ll explain that.
JOHN DEAN: Dan, it’s more direct. He literally prohibited me from testifying — it’s on one of the tapes — saying, "John, you can’t testify about that. These are national security matters."
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah. Yeah. Now, here’s what I think he meant by that.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were the matters?
JOHN DEAN: What had happened.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: What we are talking about, these crimes.
JOHN DEAN: All these areas.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Now, this applies very much to what’s going on. Egil Krogh, who was in charge of the Plumbers, so-called Plumbers unit under John Ehrlichman, who later pled guilty and had a real change of heart and is a friend of mine now — I think he’s a very admirable person — he was one person who really saw the light here. But he explained to the judge in his guilty statement, he said, "You know, I saw this as national security. To me and to everybody around me, freeing the President to do — giving him the freedom to do what he thought best in national security interests, for national policy, was the essence of national security." And I was getting in the way, by my truth telling or my exposing of what the President wanted to do, because what he wanted to do was crazy and illegal and dangerous. So he had to be secret. And to keep it other than secret, I was obstructing that. So getting rid of me was freeing the President to act like the President. This current president thinks he has the right now to use his inherent powers to do anything, unrestrained by the Constitution.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to get to that issue. John Dean, in your book, Worse Than Watergate, for those of us who lived through that era, the Nixon era and the Watergate era, it was hard to believe that a government could be so out of control, but now we’re faced with the situation now. And your parallels in terms of having lived through that era, what you are seeing and why you think that the current situation is worse than Watergate?
JOHN DEAN: Let me give you a very quick bottom line on that. Nobody died as a result of the so-called abuses of power during Watergate. Theoretically, if you include in their the secret bombing of Cambodia and things like that, which really never did get into the litany, you might say that’s not true. But in the classic litany of Watergate activities, nobody died.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Or even got incapacitated, since they did back off from beating me up.
JOHN DEAN: Right. True. But today, people are dying as a result of the abuses of power. And another point that —- I happened to appear before the Senate a couple of weeks ago to testify on Feingold’s resolution of censure, and I thought it was important I go, not as a partisan, but just as somebody who could say, "Hey, if a shot like that had come across the bough of the Nixon White House, it might have gotten the President’s attention." That’s why I thought parallel situations today, because one of the things I also discovered, to my amazement, is how little people remember about history. I was being asked questions by people like Lindsey Graham, who was 16 years old when Watergate was going on, but still you would think he would know a little bit more -—
AMY GOODMAN: The South Carolina senator.
JOHN DEAN: Yes, the South Carolina senator — than the level of questions he was asking me, which showed he had no real knowledge of it.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: That’s important, just on what we have been talking about, right? In fact, if I remember, he said that — just what we were saying. He said to you, "Come on, now. There’s no comparison. Nixon was doing domestic crimes for his own good."
JOHN DEAN: Right.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: And you said — the point you were making, as I understood — you said, "You don’t understand the history, Senator." And I believe you were referring to the fact Nixon did claim and believe that he was acting for national security when he committed these domestic crimes, just as the President — I give President Bush right now every credit for believing that when he wiretaps without warrants against the FISA Act, he’s committing domestic crimes for national security. And he almost also believes, with Nixon, when the President does it, it’s not a crime, it’s not illegal. They share it, don’t you believe? They share that attitude.
JOHN DEAN: Well, they certainly have a covey of lawyers who will give them that counsel.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Who will tell them. Unlike you. I don’t think you would have gave that advice.
JOHN DEAN: I would not give him that counsel. I don’t see the Commander-in-Chief clause being read that broadly.
AMY GOODMAN: You just recently spoke at New York University on the issue of presidential power. Can you talk about what you see today, the powers that President Bush is invoking, and what you are calling for, from crackdown at home to war in Iraq?
JOHN DEAN: The conference that NYU put together was not right, left. It was really down the middle. They had people representing all the positions, and I happened to be the keynoter. So I listened very carefully all day at that conference, particularly to hear the arguments from those who say what Bush is doing is justified. And it all seems to come down to one factor, that they believe that the so-called war on terrorism or war against terrorists is so serious that it calls for a reading of the Commander-in-Chief clause, the likes of which we have never had. So if you can buy this premise that we are in this dire state, then this is the basis they reach these conclusions.
But they never really present a very persuasive argument that it’s, say, worse than the Cold War, even close to the Cold War, where I grew up in duck-and-cover era, where we were worried about nuclear survival. I don’t see the threat. There were cells, communist cells operating in the United States. We didn’t go to warrantless wiretapping at that point. Yes, Hoover did engage in some of these activities. And in the early 1970s, mid-1970s, we decided this isn’t the way the country runs. In fact, it’s Bush’s refusal to honor those laws that were carefully negotiated by both the executive and the legislative branch to set up procedures, that I’m somewhat flabbergasted that he just says, "These don’t apply to me."
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, he’s agreeing with these lawyers — or he’s been told what you’re describing — who in effect are claiming that as if the Constitution had an emergency clause in it like the ill-fated Weimar Constitution in Germany that calls for emergency powers and ruling by regulation. They are acting as if we have two constitutions, one for war and one for peace, which is not the case with our Constitution.
JOHN DEAN: Dan, I think there are prerogative powers a president has.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: During war time.
JOHN DEAN: Yes.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: That he doesn’t have in peace time. That’s true.
JOHN DEAN: But you have to buy the argument —
DANIEL ELLSBERG: But they don’t relieve him of all constraints of the Constitution.
JOHN DEAN: No, but you have to buy the argument we’re in that dire a state right now, and we’re not. Lincoln, of course, suspended habeas corpus, but what he did, he went to Congress. Bush suspends the FISA law. What’s he do? He goes to Congress and says, 'I don't want anything more. I just want to keep breaking the law.’
AMY GOODMAN: John Dean, you were White House Counsel —
JOHN DEAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — for Nixon. Alberto Gonzales was White House Counsel for Bush. Now, he is Attorney General. What’s your assessment of your counterpart at the time laying the groundwork for the torture at Abu Ghraib?
JOHN DEAN: Well, the torture memos were appalling. There’s only one — they’re not legally sound. They’re not well argued. They’re not good law. They are distorted law. They selectively quote. They’ve reached a conclusion and tried to find law to fit in to justify it. I felt — I really felt sorry for Gonzales at how poorly he presented himself before Congress recently to argue his case on the position on FISA. It was a sad presentation, because he had no facts. He wouldn’t give the Senate any basis for his activities. His law was not justified. It was almost as bad as when Nixon, before — well before Watergate, argued that King George III was the precedent for warrantless wiretapping, and the court said, "Do you recall that’s one of the reasons we had a revolution?" It was cut that week.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And this issue of torture and especially of the continuing existence of Guantanamo as our own gulag, I think more than any single issue in the world, in terms of judicial circles and political circles, has most of the world outraged. Yet there doesn’t seem to be still within the United States the kind of public outrage over our continued —
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, start with the fact that they’re not hearing very much from Democrats in Congress as an opposition. They’re silent, with some honorable exceptions. And Feingold, after all, in his censure got — what? —- two people to join him. There’s perhaps a couple -—
JOHN DEAN: 46% of the American people agreed with it, interestingly.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: We agreed with —
JOHN DEAN: Censure.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah, right. It’s not as though the public is holding them back totally. I can’t entirely account for the passivity of most of the Democrats. I was talking to one the other day, Rush Holt, who said that on the N.S.A. wiretap, for example, he was calling it unconstitutional and illegal. And I asked him how many of his colleagues that are Democrats, and he said, "Oh, two dozen." That’s 12% of the Democrats. I said, "Why isn’t it 200 Democrats and two dozen Republicans?" After all, Republicans are Americans, too. Republicans voted for the impeachment proceedings, in the end, in Nixon. The Democrats are acting — you know, I’m — you’re an independent, I know. You got over your Republicanism. I’m tempted to pass as an independent now either. I’m kind of a self-hating Democrat.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask something, as we wrap up, and it has to do with the view from the inside and the outside. I mean, you were on the inside, Dan Ellsberg, but then you took those papers outside, the Pentagon Papers. You had them copied. You gave them to the New York Times. When he did all that, John Dean, you were on the inside. You were the White House Counsel. What did he look like? What were you saying about him at the beginning, in 1968 and 1969?
JOHN DEAN: Frankly, the picture was being painted by somebody who knew Dan better than most of us: Henry Kissinger. And he was saying very unkind things about Dan.
AMY GOODMAN: How did he know him?
JOHN DEAN: Their days together at Harvard, where Dan had actually taught some of Henry’s classes.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: He called me his brightest student — politist student. Interestingly, I had never been a student of his for an hour. He was taking credit for some reason. I never understood that.
JOHN DEAN: What happened is Nixon, as Dan alluded to, didn’t have a particularly negative reaction when he first read the release of the Pentagon Papers in the Sunday Times, after his — looking actually for the story on his daughter’s wedding that weekend. That was the coverage he was interested in. He saw this other story and read it, and then he thought this was harder on the Democrats than it was on Republicans, so he didn’t have a problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Because it was on the history of the involvement in Vietnam.
JOHN DEAN: Yes. And it wasn’t really until Monday, when Henry got a hold of him and came in, and Henry knew exactly which button to push to get Nixon’s manhood involved and by telling the President, "Mr. President, if you don’t deal with Dan Ellsberg and this problem, the world is going to think you’re a weakling." And once Nixon’s manhood is involved, that’s why we got him pounding on the desk, "I wanna break-in at the Brookings! I want this!" It was really very threatening to Nixon personally that Kissinger would think him less than the man he should be in this office, filling these shoes that have so much history in them.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: But if I may say, the Plumbers were really set up a little bit later after that to neutralize me. That was the word used.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Plumbers, of course, to deal with leaks. That’s why they were called the Plumbers.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, to deal with leaks, but as I say, in the tapes here that I present in the book and that I’ve listened to a lot, his attitude toward leaks was, "I want him tried in the press. Do you understand? Leak it out. Leak it out. Everything you have on him." And that’s what they were trying to get on me. But the reason was, as I said, that they were worried about current documents. His attitude toward the Democrats was "This is great. Let’s get out more." But on him, he didn’t want leaks.
That brings us up to the present right now. If I can really sum up a lot of what we’ve been saying, listening to John also, and my situation, what does a patriotic official who’s taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, which is what we all did, including the President, not to uphold a Fuhrer or a Commander-in-Chief, but to uphold the Constitution, what should she or he do when he discovers that the administration, under the direction of the President, is violating the Constitution or greatly endangering the public, the country, the security, as is happening right now with our plans to attack Iran? And we listen to the — with the Iranians promising that they will retaliate against Americans in Iraq and here. They can lie. They can bluff. I believe that threat. I think that these plans are endangering us. Okay, what do you do then if you know that the public is being lied to about very dangerous plans?
The rules say go up the chain. Tell your boss. Tell the agency. Tell your inspector general. Tell the President. As a matter of fact, the woman just fired had written a letter to the President, saying — Clinton in that case —-disagreeing with his decision to bomb Sudan on the grounds that he didn’t have really good evidence for it. But she didn’t go outside, and that wasn’t known, didn’t affect the President. I would say that under those circumstances, you have to do what I did belatedly -— I wish I had done it years earlier — and what John Dean did when he went before the committee and when he talked to the prosecutors: tell the truth. Uphold your oath to the Constitution.
What offset Dean, correct me if I’m wrong, athwart, at odds with the administration was that he refused to lie under oath, refused to perjure himself. In my case, I failed my promises to keep secrets when I discovered that those secrets were lies about dangerous criminal activities. And I’m saying to the people right now, whoever it was who put out that information about the illegal N.S.A. wiretaps — we don’t know who it was yet — whoever it was who put out the information on the secret torture camps and detention and kidnapping — may not have been Mary McCarthy, her lawyer has denied that — whoever it was was acting patriotically, courageously, in interest of their oath to the Constitution, and frankly, their colleagues who didn’t tell that were not upholding their oath to the Constitution, and they can do better. And they can learn from that example.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re calling for them to speak out.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I’m calling for them to speak out with documents.
AMY GOODMAN: John Dean, are you also calling for people to speak out with documents?
JOHN DEAN: If Dan says that alone, we don’t have a conspiracy. We’ll — let’s have Dan say that alone.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, you can say it separately. Now, we’re on the same table together.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: But, okay. I would say, for example, whoever that was, if they find them with their lie-detector tests or — I don’t think they’ve gotten to the point of torturing Americans citizens yet, although notice that whereas the break-in to my psychiatrist’s office would now be legal under the PATRIOT Act, as would the wiretapping, as far as the President sees it — I was overheard on warrantless wiretaps, that’s legal in the President’s eyes — some things are not yet legal. The attempt to incapacitate me are not yet legal. I would say to people who knew of that sort of thing, if they get found out, I hope they will call on me for their fundraising in their trials. Don’t rely on the New York Times, by the way, for helping them on the trial. I didn’t get any help on there. But I’ll be happy to support them, just as Jack Anderson did support me. They’re doing the right thing. That’s what I’d love to say. And I want more people to do more of it.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, and I want to thank you both very much for being with us and for having this first conversation around the country in a national broadcast. The man who exposed the break-in of Dan Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, John Dean, and Dan Ellsberg, thank you.
JOHN DEAN: Thank you, Amy.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Thank you.
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