Former White House counsel John Dean—one of the central figures in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s—implied that President Donald Trump’s behavior in the White House was more extreme than that of disgraced former President Richard Nixon.
“If I had to channel a little of Richard Nixon, I think he’d tell this president he’s going too far. This is the sort of stuff of a banana republic. This is what an autocrat does.”
Dean made his remarks on CNN, following reports that Trump had pressured the Department of Justice to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
In an interview with Dean, CNN host John Berman asked: “You just said that Richard Nixon would tell Donald Trump he’s going too far?”
Dean replied: “I think he would… This is a level that Richard Nixon never went to where you went after somebody’s personal well-being by a criminal prosecution.”
Berman called such a plan “the definition of Nixonian.”
According to a Tuesday report in The New York Times, Trump’s efforts to prosecute two of his most prominent adversaries received pushback from White House counsel Don McGahn, who left his post last month. McGahn told Trump, according to The Times’s report, that the president did not have the authority to order legal action.
McGahn’s lawyer, William Burck, told The Times that the former White House counsel would not discuss his legal advice to the president. “Like any client, the president is entitled to confidentiality,” Burck explained, though he added that McGahn noted, “The president never, to his knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James Comey.”
Dean—who was fired by Nixon during the Watergate scandal, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and later become a key witness for the prosecution—told Berman that Trump “won’t back off” in his pursuit of authoritarian politics “until he’s forced to.”
McGahn and other White House lawyers reportedly followed up their advice with a letter warning Trump of a range of possible consequences that could befall him if he pursued prosecution, including impeachment.