This Monday, despite continued pushback from the Trump administration, the House Judiciary Committee kicked off what’s set to be a series of hearings covering the final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. One of their witnesses was former White House counsel John Dean, who ended up a star witness in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon in the 1970s.
Before Congress, Dean brought testimony about the echoes of the Watergate scandal in the Russia scandal and more specifically, the Trump administration’s response to it, considering that monumental obstruction has marked both situations. As CBS News put it:
‘[Dean] testified… that there were “exhaustive” and “remarkable” parallels between… Robert Mueller’s Russia report and the findings compiled in the wake of the Watergate scandal [and] noted “events in both 1972 and 2016 resulted in obstruction of the investigations.”‘
Back in the 1970s, Nixon’s stonewalling in the face of efforts to investigate his apparent spying on the opposition ended up one of the marks against him in the articles of impeachment that eventually helped drive him from office. At present, the Trump administration is carrying on with its own monumental stonewalling, as Dean indicates, refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas and other requests and demands for information as part of their Constitutionally-mandated oversight and investigative responsibilities.
Dean testified more specifically about this issue, sharing with the Judiciary Committee that he believes that former White House counsel Don McGahn should comply with their subpoena for testimony. At the direction of the White House, McGahn had declined to do so despite being named as a key witness in the Mueller report, and Dean shared in response:
‘McGahn represented the Office of the Presidency, not Donald Trump personally. In short, McGahn’s loyalty is to his client, the Office of the Presidency, not the occupant.’
It’s unclear if McGahn will ever actually testify. Repeated directives from the president involving him and the attempted firing of Special Counsel Mueller are key elements of the Mueller’s team’s probe into possible presidential obstruction. In and out of Congressional testimony, Attorney General William Barr has sought to depict these directives as harmless, but Mueller asserted rather bluntly at what’s his so far only press conference since leading the Russia scandal:
‘If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.’
Trump has personally responded to Dean joining the fray against his behavior, angrily tweeting that he “can’t believe they are bringing in John Dean, the disgraced Nixon White House Counsel who is a paid CNN contributor.”
The hearing, however, still got underway anyway, and besides Dean included witnesses like former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who’s among the many former Justice Department officials to flatly assert that if Trump were not president of the United States, he would have faced criminal charges for obstruction of justice by now.
Trump desperately wants to avoid this judgment to the point of flatly refusing to work with Democrats on any bipartisan policy pushes at all until they stop aiming for a “do-over” of the Russia probe, as he put it on the occasion of storming out of a recent meeting with Democratic leaders. This could spell trouble when it comes time to renew government funding this fall.
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