The Nunes Memo And Parallels To Watergate

Feb 3, 2018
Originally published on February 3, 2018 5:39 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's Saturday. Is there a Justice Department Saturday night massacre in the offing? Of course, that's when President Nixon in 1973 ordered the attorney general to get rid of the Watergate special prosecutor. When that person resigned in protest, Nixon went to the next line - the next in line. That person also resigned until Nixon finally found somebody who would do it.

John Dean, of course, is part of that history, President Nixon's former White House counsel. He went on to testify what he knew about Watergate, cut a plea deal for a reduced sentence, got out of prison and has gone on to become a kind of expert in presidential abuses. Thanks for being back with us, Mr. Dean.

JOHN DEAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: You tweeted, quote, "Nunes memo is a total fraud." Why do you think that?

DEAN: (Laughter) I saw your retweet or notice of it go by on my machine just now. Well, I think it fizzled. It fizzled for a number of reasons. First of all, it had really very little to say with - there was no charge of wrongdoing in the memo toward anybody. There were implications. There were hints. But it didn't mention the legal standard. It didn't mention the standard had been broken, which is intentional or negligent false statements being put into the application. That didn't even get close to that level. So I think all he's managed out - Nunes has managed to do is to release a little more of the putrid McCarthyism that was in the air yesterday.

SIMON: And why do you say McCarthyism?

DEAN: Well, it's very reminiscent. You know, here I have this document. This document will name people. And he named people, and the charge was pretty pathetic (laughter).

SIMON: Do you think, Mr. Dean, that any investigation can come out of the House or Senate or, for that matter, Mr. Mueller's investigation that will have credibility with the American people where - I'll put it this way - where it's most needed - people who are skeptical of all this investigation.

DEAN: I think it could come out of the Senate. In their work, they seem to be highly bipartisan, working together, trying to get answers. So what they come up with is likely to be a bipartisan report. They're certainly working towards that. As far as the Mueller investigation, I don't see any partisanship there at all. They're trying to dig in and find out if there has been criminal wrongdoing. And if that has happened, they're going to deal with the appropriate charges or no charge.

SIMON: Based on your experience, do you think it's possible that anybody working in the investigative process, for investigative agencies will be intimidated or discouraged from pursuing an investigation because they just don't want their name dragged into a memo that might get revealed?

DEAN: Well it's not been the people working on the investigation as much as almost noncombatants getting dragged in, which is highly unfair and improper - to put people who are not targets, who are people who have not done anything wrong and just to pull them in and say - make some charge. They're defenseless, really, in dealing with it. That's been the unfair part.

SIMON: You must know that, I guess, George Papadopoulos - his fiance has referred to him as...

DEAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: I guess you do know.

DEAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: As a John Dean. I wonder how you feel about that.

DEAN: Well, you know, I did hear that comment when she made it. She's pretty young. I don't know how familiar she is with history. That's a rough road to hoe. I don't know if he is prepared to do it. I don't know if he has enough knowledge to do it. If his spirit is in that direction, I'm encouraged that he's certainly going to tell it the way it was from what he does know. And hopefully, he can shed some light on it and help you know, end it. Maybe he did work internally to bring it to a close. So we'll have to see.

SIMON: Is there a lesson from what not only you but the country went through in Watergate - is that it's sometimes just best to leave the investigative apparatus where it is, that firing people just hastens an investigation?

DEAN: Refusal to turn over information that, ultimately, the courts are going to force you to turn over, name calling of investigators and trying to undercut them by discrediting them does not work. There was - that was done during Watergate by Nixon. "The Hill" - it was pretty straightforward in its inquiries. There was no Republican assistance to Nixon, but there were conversations behind closed doors and on the telephones - quiet and secret conversations but really very little overt activity. So the process played out as it normally should've.

SIMON: John Dean, thanks so much.

DEAN: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.