WASHINGTON – Former White House counsel John Dean testified Monday about parallels between President Donald Trump and his former boss, Richard Nixon, at the first hearing of the House Judiciary Committee aimed at understanding Robert Mueller's findings.
“In many ways the Mueller report is to President (Donald) Trump what the so-called Watergate road map ... was to President Richard Nixon,” said Dean, whose congressional testimony in 1973 ultimately lead to the resignation of Nixon. “Special counsel Mueller has provided this committee with a road map.”
Democrats convened the hearing two hours after the panel announced it reached a deal with the Justice Department to obtain “key evidence” related to Mueller's investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice.
Under the agreement, the panel will have access to interview notes, firsthand accounts and other evidence, according to Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who announced that he would not move to hold Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt of Congress.
Dean acknowledged he was not a “fact witness” on the Mueller report but highlighted similarities he saw between the two presidents, particularly on the matter of pardons and whether they were used to obstruct justice.
Mueller identified 10 potential cases of obstruction of justice by Trump in his report, but the former special counsel said his office could neither clear nor accuse Trump of obstructing his investigation, citing a longstanding Justice Department opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Committee Republicans mocked Democrats for bringing in the 80-year-old Dean – a name from a bygone era who has a CNN contract – and several other former U.S. attorneys who have TV contracts.
Rep. Douglas Collins, R-Ga., the top GOP lawmaker on the panel, said if Democrats really cared about stopping Russia interference in future elections, the committee would be asking experts – not cable commentators – to testify.
Dean said the last time he testified before the House Judiciary Committee was July 11, 1974, nearly 45 years ago. Seven of the committee's 41 members were born after his testimony.
At the White House, Trump dismissed Dean and any notion of impeachment.
“John Dean's been a loser for many years,” the president told reporters, adding: “You can't impeach somebody when there's never been a thing done wrong. When you look at past impeachments ... there's a big difference, I don't leave.”
The criticism underscores the problem Democrats face in trying to draw attention to Mueller's findings, particularly because Trump has blocked former White House aides from testifying. Mueller himself has also refused to agree to a date to testify publicly, privately expressing worries about being used politically.
Democrats have struggled to create blockbuster moments like the one where Dean turned on his former boss and helped bring down a president. Trump's former White House counsel Donald McGahn, in fact, has refused to testify after the White House told him not to.
For his role in the Watergate scandal, Dean pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and later was disbarred and served four months in federal prison.
Today, the House will vote to authorize the judiciary panel to take Barr to civil court to enforce a subpoena for the underlying documents should the documents prove insufficient to investigations. The 448-page Mueller report was released in redacted form April 18.
Earlier in the day, Trump lashed out at Dean, calling him a “sleazebag” ahead of his appearance at the House hearing. Dean said he was not bothered by Trump's tweets.
“He's called me nasty names before,” Dean said. “It doesn't bother me in the slightest.”
A growing number of Democrats have called for launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has continued to counsel a more deliberate course.
In public remarks May 29, Mueller said his office could not consider whether to charge Trump with a crime because of the Justice Department's stance on indicting a sitting president.
Mueller, who resigned as special counsel the same day, repeated a line in his report explaining that his team would have exonerated Trump of obstruction if it could have.
That remark emboldened Democrats who would like to see impeachment proceedings launched, despite a determination by Barr that Trump's actions did not warrant obstruction charges.