- John DeanPresident Richard Nixon’s White House counsel.
President Trump has been in office for only 36 days, and there is already a growing chorus of voices calling for his impeachment. This comes as CNN and The New York Times report White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sought unsuccessfully to have the FBI refute news reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were in frequent contact with Russian intelligence agents ahead of November’s election. The allegations have drawn comparisons to former President Richard Nixon’s 1972 discussion with aides who used the CIA to push the FBI away from investigating the Watergate burglary that later led to his resignation. We speak to someone who has been at the center of the unraveling of a presidency and a vote for impeachment: President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean. He is the author of several books, including “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It,” “Conservatives Without Conscience” and “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches.”
AMY GOODMAN: As of today, President Trump has been in office for 36 days. There’s already a growing chorus of voices calling for his impeachment. Nearly 900,000 people have signed an online petition entitled “Impeach Donald Trump Now.” Thousands of protesters poured into the streets Monday for “Not My President’s Day” marches across the country. Thousands more stormed Republican town halls this week to confront Republican leaders over their support for Trump.
Even the city of Richmond, California, has joined the movement. On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling on Congress to consider Trump’s impeachment, arguing Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits people holding federal office from accepting payments from foreign governments.
The demand for Trump’s impeachment comes as he presides over an understaffed White House in near constant crisis. This comes as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sought unsuccessfully to have the FBI refute news reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were in frequent contact with Russian intelligence agents ahead of November’s election. That’s according to CNN, which reported on Thursday the FBI declined to publicly corroborate Priebus’s denial. Priebus’s outreach to the FBI violated policies intended to limit communications between the White House and the FBI on pending investigations. Priebus denied the reports during an interview Sunday on Meet the Press.
REINCE PRIEBUS: I know what they were told by the FBI, because I’ve talked to the FBI. I know what they’re saying. I wouldn’t be on your show right now telling you that we’ve been assured that there’s nothing to The New York Times story, if I actually wasn’t assured—and, by the way, if I didn’t actually have clearance to make this comment.
AMY GOODMAN: Allegations of White House communications with the FBI during the investigation into Russia’s influence have raised questions about whether the Trump administration has violated ethics restrictions meant to protect such investigations from political influence. They’ve also drawn comparisons to former President Richard Nixon’s 1972 discussion with aides who used the CIA to push the FBI away from investigating the Watergate burglary that later led to Nixon’s resignation.
Will the constant chaos, confusion and conflicts of interest in the Trump administration lead to President Trump’s impeachment? Well, for more, we go to someone who’s been at the center of the unraveling of a presidency and a vote for impeachment. That’s right, President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean. He’s the author of several books, including The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It and Conservatives Without Conscience, as well as Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches.
John Dean, welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN DEAN: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we have 36 days so far into this presidency. It took a second term of office for President Nixon before the House Judiciary Committee voted on articles of impeachment against him. He would later resign, so he wasn’t impeached. But can you talk about where Donald Trump is right now?
JOHN DEAN: Well, what I see and hear, in following it, are echoes of Watergate. If you recall, Watergate ran about 900 days. In other words, it went on for years, starting with a bungled burglary at the Democratic National Committee and right up to Richard Nixon’s resignation, followed by the conviction of his top aides. So it ran a long time. What we’re seeing is very accelerated. It’s partially responsible because of the media and the technology today, but it’s also the behavior of Trump and his aides, as well as the media’s vigilance on this. So we’re seeing things accelerated. And what I see or hear are echoes of Watergate. We don’t have Watergate 2.0 yet, but we have something that is beginning to look like it could go there.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to turn right now to what took place in Richmond, California. It became the first U.S. city to call for an investigation into whether to impeach President Trump. A resolution approved by the Richmond City Council states Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits people holding federal office from accepting payments from foreign governments. These are some of the city officials who voted unanimously in favor of the impeachment resolution.
COUNCILMEMBER JAEL MYRICK: Ordinarily, it would be odd to be talking about the—well, everything about this administration is odd. But it would be odd to be talking about the impeachment of a president only a month into his term. Unfortunately, with this president, it’s oddly appropriate.
COUNCILMEMBER JOVANKA BECKLES: The word is very, very clear that the residents of these United States are not in alignment with his movement of hate, his movement of fear, his movement of bullying and intimidation, and his movement of just out-and-out lies.
AMY GOODMAN: Voices of the city councilmembers in Richmond, California. Do you think what they’re accusing President Trump of could lead to his impeachment?
JOHN DEAN: It could lead there, Amy, if the Republicans didn’t control both houses of Congress. It’s a beginning. It takes a lot of momentum, much more than one city. It takes hundreds of cities. It takes really a national change of attitude about this president before we’re going to have an impeachment. Right today, given the fact that the House and Senate are controlled by the Republicans, they’re not going to impeach their president. As long as he gives them what they want and signs into legislation or signs into law a lot of the things that they’ve had in their dreams for many years, they’re not going to give him any problem. So—and he’s not going to give them any problem, because he doesn’t want to have a fight with them. So, it’s going to be a while. Impeachment is not a legal process. It’s a quasi-legal process, but it’s primarily a political process. And we’re not there yet. Now, a lot of people might like it. It’s not going to happen until the political process reaches that stage.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about this latest breaking news out of CNN and also The New York Times, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus seeking unsuccessfully to have the FBI refute news reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were in frequent touch with Russian intelligence agents ahead of November’s election, CNN also reporting Thursday the FBI declined to publicly corroborate Priebus’s denial, Priebus’s outreach to the FBI violating policies intended to limit communications between the White House and the FBI on pending investigations. And this goes back to Watergate, when you were at the White House.
JOHN DEAN: It does.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what is improper here, and possibly what is illegal here? And talk about your position as White House counsel at the time. What were you seeing happening there? And what these allegations—why they are so significant?
JOHN DEAN: There’s actually nothing illegal about talking to the FBI. Nobody has to talk to the FBI when they come to see them or knock on their door, unless they’re carrying a subpoena or acting directly for a grand jury. To my knowledge, there’s no grand jury at this stage of any kind of inquiry into Mr. Trump’s or his aides’ conduct. So, there’s probably nothing overtly illegal. There is a policy that was written in the late 2000s between the FBI and anybody in the rest of the executive branch, or the Congress, for that matter, talking to them about a ongoing investigation. That appears to be the regulation that may have been violated. And what happened is, one of the assistant directors pulled Priebus aside in the White House after a meeting and just said The New York Times story is a little bit overboard.
AMY GOODMAN: McCabe of the FBI.
JOHN DEAN: Yes, yes, excuse me—the FBI investigation was a little bit overboard as reported by The New York Times. And it was just a passing remark. And then Priebus tried, apparently, to reach back and get more out of them. And that’s where he probably crossed the line—a regulatory line, not a legal line. So, but this is a—
AMY GOODMAN: This is pressuring both McCabe and then a call to the head of the FBI, Comey—
JOHN DEAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —to get them to publicly say that these stories about the contact between Trump’s people and Russia were not true.
JOHN DEAN: It was an effort on behalf of the White House that failed. Comey was not about to buy into it. He has an ongoing investigation, and he wasn’t about to undercut it by giving that kind of comment to Priebus. So, that—this investigation has to play out. And it will play out. It will play out on Capitol Hill. It will play out in the FBI.
Russia kind of breaks down into three categories. There’s the pre-election activity: Did the Trump campaign have contact with Russians and somehow know that they were hacking into the DNC, trying to hurt Hillary and help Trump? That’s the first question. Then there’s the period between the election and the inauguration, when Flynn was having contact with the ambassador. Did the president, and how many—who else on his staff was involved in those efforts to try to possibly undercut the Obama administration? And, of course, the third big area that they’re investigating is: What is the truth or falsity of the dossier that appeared from the MI6 former employee, a fellow by the name of Steele, who reported what he was finding from some of his contacts in Russia as to whether or not Russia had compromised Donald Trump? Those are sort of the big three areas they’re looking at in the Russian investigation. And any one of those could cause Mr. Trump a serious problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Back in 1972, you had Richard Nixon discussing with aides using the CIA to push the FBI from investigating the Watergate burglary. Were you in on those discussions?
JOHN DEAN: What happened is, before that happened, I had been over—I had been called over by the acting director of the FBI, Pat Gray, to have an update and a report. And I came back and reported to Haldeman what was going on. It’s interesting, Amy. And I’ve gone through every single Watergate conversation for the book I did, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It. We transcribed everything, about 600 tapes that had never been heard before. So I tracked it from the beginning to the end. And what happened in that conversation is Haldeman sort of took what I told him and pushed it much further than either Mitchell or I thought appropriate, and tried to sell the president on this as being a tool to use the CIA to cut off the FBI. Now, that was later called an obstruction of justice. I’m not sure, technically, it was. But what it did is it caught Richard Nixon in a lie, because he had denied he had known anything about any cover-up until I told him much later, when I started having direct dealings with him. And it was the lie that caught him more than that particular incident.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to John Dean, who served as counsel to the president—that was President Nixon—author of a number of books, including The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It and Conservatives Without Conscience, as well as Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches. We’ll be back with him in a minute, and then we’ll go to our exclusive interview with Seattle Seahawks football star Michael Bennett, why he chose not to go on an Israeli government-sponsored trip to Israel. Stay with us.