Democrats are ripping a page out of the Watergate playbook as they look to shine a spotlight on the unsavory details about President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump hits Comcast, MSNBC over ‘hatred,’ ‘fake news’ Trump hits Comcast, MSNBC over ‘hatred,’ ‘fake news’ Public support for liberal policymaking at 60-year high, survey says MORE’s conduct contained in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff says Intel panel will hold ‘series’ of hearings on Mueller report Schiff says Intel panel will hold ‘series’ of hearings on Mueller report Key House panel faces pivotal week on Trump MORE’s report.
The House Judiciary Committee will grill John Dean, who served as White House counsel during Richard Nixon’s administration and was intimately tied up in the Watergate controversy, during a public hearing on Monday.
Dean was intimately involved in the Watergate coverup, and delivered televised testimony before Congress following his ouster that helped contribute to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Dean also served four months in prison for his role in the coverup.
“Dean was an incredibly important part of the public, the congressional Watergate investigation,” said Ken Hughes, an expert on Watergate and a research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “He set the agenda for the rest of the congressional Watergate investigation.”
Dean has been no stranger to the public eye in recent years. He’s been a vocal critic of President Trump, arguing he engaged in obstruction based on what is described in Mueller’s report.
“This is clear obstruction,” Dean told CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperReid backs Trump impeachment inquiry Reid backs Trump impeachment inquiry Clyburn walks back comments about impeachment MORE following the release of the public report in April. “The obstruction statute is an endeavor statute as well as an actual overt action. If you endeavor to obstruct – and there is much evidence here of endeavor – you’ve violated the obstruction statute.”
Democrats describe Dean as an ideal witness who can provide historical context on obstruction of justice within the White House, given his pivotal role in the Watergate scandal. Many Democrats have drawn comparisons between Nixon’s conduct in Watergate and Trump’s actions as Mueller portrays them in his 448-page report.
“Remember, he was the one who broke the back of Nixon’s obstruction of justice, who testified truthfully,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler: ‘It may very well come to’ opening a formal impeachment inquiry Overnight Health Care: ‘Medicare for All’ gets boost from high-ranking Democrat | Anti-abortion group vows to spend M in 2020 election | Dems make Medicaid center of Kentucky governor fight Overnight Health Care: ‘Medicare for All’ gets boost from high-ranking Democrat | Anti-abortion group vows to spend M in 2020 election | Dems make Medicaid center of Kentucky governor fight MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday. “He knows how a White House does it, and he can testify with respect to some of the evidence in the Mueller report and how that relates to his experience with obstruction of justice.”
The hearing is the first in an expected series focused on the details of the Mueller investigation. Democrats say they want to elucidate key parts of the special counsel’s dense report without having secured testimony from Mueller himself.
Democrats say they are looking for Dean’s first-hand expertise on obstruction of justice to guide their sweeping investigation into Trump and his conduct. They’re likely to ask Dean to compare the obstruction he witnessed and participated in with Trump and his associates’ actions as described in the second volume of Mueller’s report.
“Not only can he provide some historical context, I think he is very immersed in what the actual procedures and laws are regarding issues of executive privilege, executive power versus congressional subpoenas,” said Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuTed Lieu fires back at Twitter critic: I served in the military to defend your right to say ‘stupid, racist s—‘ Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member. “He’s also intimately familiar with obstruction of justice as well as abuse of power.”
Democrats argue Mueller found substantial evidence that Trump obstructed justice, and have taken his first public statements on May 29 as a green light to further investigate the president’s conduct.
A growing number of Democrats, including several on the Judiciary panel, have also encouraged the committee to open an impeachment inquiry since the release of Mueller’s report, however Nadler has not publicly backed impeachment and House leaders remain opposed to such a move.
Trump and his allies have accused Democrats of trying to defame him ahead of the 2020 reelection, and the White House has fought the onslaught of Democrat-led investigations in the House.
Many Republicans see the hearing with Dean as little more than political theater.
They also argue it’s time to move on following Mueller’s investigation, describing his conclusions as vindicating the president.
In a letter to Nadler Friday, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTop Judiciary Republican: Mueller hearing could violate ‘decency and decorum’ rules Top Judiciary Republican: Mueller hearing could violate ‘decency and decorum’ rules House Democrats officially introduce contempt resolution for Barr, McGahn MORE (R-Ga.), the committee’s top Republican, suggested Democrats were in danger of violating House rules that require members engage in “civil debate” and that bar them from engaging in “personalities” with other members of Congress or the president.
“This appears to be part of a strategy to turn the Committee’s oversight hearings into a mock-impeachment inquiry rather than a legitimate exercise in congressional oversight,” Collins wrote. “Conducting such hearings inevitably sets this Committee on a collision course with the longstanding Rules of the House.”
“Should you choose to forego your obligation to enforce the Rules and ensure the Committee conducts itself in a dignified manner, please know those transgressions will not go unnoticed or unremarked upon by Republican Members,” Collins further wrote.
Monday’s hearing comes as committee Democrats are still trying to wrangle Mueller to deliver public testimony.
In his public remarks, Mueller made clear he does not want to answer questions from Congress publicly and emphasized that any such testimony would not go beyond the details in his report.
Nadler on Wednesday indicated the negotiations with Mueller are ongoing. He expressed confidence that Mueller would appear before the committee and noted that the panel would subpoena him if necessary.
Dean’s testimony is no substitute for Mueller and other witnesses who can provide firsthand accounts of the events laid out in the report.
One such witness is former White House counsel Don McGahn, who, according to the report, refused Trump’s direction to have Mueller removed because he feared it would trigger another “Saturday Night Massacre” — a reference to events that played out during Watergate when Nixon fired Justice Department officials who refused to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
The Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed McGahn for public testimony but the former official has thus far refused on orders from Trump, who cited a Justice Department legal opinion arguing that McGahn is immune from compelled congressional testimony in instructing him not to evade the appearance last month.
The House plans to vote Tuesday to hold both Barr and McGahn in civil contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas, allowing Nadler to go to court to enforce them.