“You can’t look at Watergate today without looking through the lens or at least a filter of the Trump presidency,” John Dean told the Los Angeles Times. Dean was White Counsel during the presidency of Richard Nixon. He is part of four-part CNN documentary series “Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal.”
Trump’s demands for unyielding loyalty from staff and statements such as asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes that would overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election in the state rival what was heard on Nixon’s tapes, but were delivered with far less discretion.
While Nixon had a dangerous lust for power, Dean still believes the 37th president and the only one to ever resign still compares favorably to Trump.
“I think Richard Nixon had a conscience,” said Dean. “He could be embarrassed. Was he hard-nosed and tough? Yeah. But I think he could experience shame. I don’t think it’s an emotion that Donald Trump could ever muster.”
If the Watergate scandal happened today, Dean believes Fox News and other conservative outlets would give more oxygen to Nixon’s defenders and perhaps enable the disgraced president to at least finish out his term instead of resigning.
Former Trump officials have been criticized for waiting to express their misgivings over what was happening in the White House until after they left and made book deals. But Dean understands how it’s not so easy to walk away from the center of power.
“If it was a county sheriff they wouldn’t [stay],” Dean said. “It’s the White House in the remarkable city at the top of the government. It’s a fascinating place to see what’s going on.”
Dean tried to leave the White House in September 1971, a year after he arrived and well before the Watergate break-in. But he was told by his immediate boss, John Ehrlichman, that his post-White House career would be difficult if he left.
“I had some unsolicited offers that I really wanted to explore. Ehrlichman said, ‘If you leave, you’ll be persona non grata with this administration, so don’t take a job where you need any connections to us.’ Of course, the jobs did want me to have relationships with the Nixon White House. Ehrlichman said, ‘John, you’ll have better job offers after Nixon gets reelected.’ Yeah, making license plates.”
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