Former Nixon Counsel John Dean: Right-Wing Media Impeachment Calls, Watergate Comparisons “Absolutely Silliness”

John Dean, former aide and counsel to President Richard Nixon, denounced right-wing media for “rewriting” the history of Watergate in order to attack President Obama, calling comparisons of current events to the historic scandal “nonsense” and “absolutely silliness.”

August marks the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation in the wake of Watergate, a vast scandal that The New York Times explained included, “wiretapping, money laundering, destruction of documents, payment of hush money, character assassination, disinformation and deception -- all perpetrated by people at the highest levels of Government.”

Dean served as Nixon's White House counsel during Watergate and is promoting a new book on the subject. In an interview with Media Matters, he slammed Republican officials and right-wing commentators who have compared Watergate's historic criminality to various supposed Obama administration scandals, with some going so far as to call for the president's removal from office.

“It's absolutely silliness,” Dean said. “The conservative media just doesn't seem to understand the impeachment clause. It is not designed to ... besmirch a president with, and that's all they're doing with it.”

“They don't understand it, they don't have a clue what happened during Watergate, do not have a clue,” he added. “They want to distort that history, rewriting it, ignore it and then use it. That's the conservative media.”

Dean's book, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It (Viking 2014), is based on hours of tapes from Nixon's years at the White House, many of which were never catalogued, he said. It attempts to set the record straight on the scandal and Nixon's involvement, arguing the president's actions had broader implications than previously understood. 

Today, however, Dean noted that conservative media “know” an Obama impeachment “can't prevail in a trial,” and that “even talking about it is nonsense and there's no high crime. For them it's a high crime to be a Democrat and serve as president.”

Citing conservative media's attempts to compare Watergate to a never-ending litany of supposed “scandals,” including the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks and the IRS targeting investigation, Dean said, “I told my publisher that they should send a copy of my new book to every Republican in the House so they can understand what impeachable behavior looks like.” Dean later declared: “It does not work at all, in fact they don't even raise to the level of scandal ... both Benghazi and IRS.”

Dean also said he saw signs of similar attempts by the GOP to rewrite this history when he was a media contributor during the 1999 impeachment of Bill Clinton.

“When I worked for MSNBC on the Clinton impeachment, I was there many times ... and talked to about everybody who was involved in the Clinton impeachment in the green room sooner or later and I can't tell you how many Republicans told me that this was to get even with what the Democrats had done to Nixon.” According to Dean, “when I reminded them that 80 percent of the people in the United States, including most Republicans, thought Nixon should leave when he left, they didn't want to face that fact. So I think this is more of the same.”

Asked what makes Watergate different from any perceived Obama scandal, Dean said: “They don't seem to recognize the difference between an apple and a lemon, it is just that fundamental. Today's scandals are mediated events, and for something to rise to the level of a true scandal it has to be not just the conservative media's take on it, it has to be widespread and all media's take on it ... they will label anything that is contrary to their politics scandal, but it doesn't work that way.”

Dean offered up his own Watergate comparison in a previous book, Worse Than Watergate, which targeted the George W. Bush administration. Although he finds no Nixon comparison in Obama, Dean said the Bush comparison is valid.

“I see a distinction between White House directed and administration directed, as well as active and passive,” Dean said. “The Nixon and Bush White Houses were actively driving policies to push the envelope -- undertaking affirmative actions.” Dean cited the Bush administration's use of torture as an interrogation technique as an example of such policies.

Dean stressed that Obama's presidency is no Watergate despite what some on the right want to contend.

“These people live in an alternative universe,” Dean said of many in the conservative media. “I read their press and it's like reading the funnies, they really do not seem to want to live in the same universe of reality.”

Dean also slammed author Roger Stone, whose book, Nixon's Secrets: The Rise, Fall, and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon, questions Dean's account of the scandal, seeks to defend Nixon, and claims Deep Throat, the secret informant for The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, wasn't FBI Associate Director Mark Felt -- despite the fact that Woodward and Bernstein confirmed his identity in 2005.

Stone is one of several former Nixon aides who have been defending the disgraced president in recent media appearances. A “professional dirty trickster” with a history of virulent misogyny, Stone believes Nixon should not have been impeached for Watergate. He wrote three op-eds for in the last few months in which he attacked Dean and other Nixon critics, plugged his book, and claimed that “Nixon was bad but Obama is worse.”

“This is typical of the alternative universe out there. That is pure bullshit, why would Woodward say it if it is someone else?” Dean said about Stone's Deep Throat claim. “I don't care to know anything about Stone. From everything I've been told about him I'm not sure you want to put in print.”