Law Chat
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John Dean on Watergate, Whitewater and Electing The Next President

November 1, 2000

(CNN) -- John Dean joined Law Chat on Wednesday, November 1. Dean was the White House counsel during the Nixon administration and the Watergate scandal. He is now an investment banker and lives in California. Dean wrote the book "Blind Ambition," telling the story of his experiences during Watergate. He has written articles about the Watergate scandal as well as the Clinton impeachment. Law Chat is produced with FindLaw. CNN provided a typist for Dean. The following is an edited transcript of the chat.

CNN Host: Welcome to CNN.com Law Chat, John Dean. We are pleased to have you with us today.

John Dean: It's a delight to be here, particularly as we head into such an important election with issues like the future of the U.S. Supreme Court very much at the forefront of the campaign.

CNN Host: There's been much speculation about new Supreme Court appointees, but who do you believe Bush and Gore are considering for the position of attorney general?

John Dean: Typically the selection of attorney general, in past years, was an attorney who was close to the president. In more recent years, and particularly post Watergate, the president has selected attorney generals with whom he has little personal relationship. There is certainly no indication at this time, who either Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore might select for the attorney general, but I suspect it will be someone with impeccable credentials.

CNN Host: What are your thoughts regarding the ways in which the complexion of the Supreme Court might change with a new administration?

John Dean: I happen to be one who does not think we are going to see a dramatic change in the Supreme Court. While it is a wonderful campaign issue, an issue to stir up the troops, the reality is a little bit different. I say this because none of the nine justices have indicated any plan to retire. It is not uncommon for justices to serve in their 80s. For example, Justice Blackman and Justice Black were 85, Justice Brennan was 84, Justice Thurgood Marshall was 83, and Oliver Wendell Holmes served until he was 90. While it is true that several of the justices have been treated for cancer, there is no evidence that they are not completely recovered and in good health. So this may be more of a get out the troop--what if--type of issue, than a reality.

Question from How: What are Mr. Dean's thoughts on how a change at the Justice Department might impact the Microsoft trial?

John Dean: Good question. Typically, Democratic administrations are more active in enforcing antitrust laws than Republican administrations. If Mr. Bush wins, there is probably a greater prospect that the case be settled, than if Mr. Gore wins. But this case has progressed quite far in the litigation, so it is entirely possible it will proceed through a Supreme Court ruling.

Question from LagMagnet: Considering the flap over Elian Gonzales, and Al Gore's break from the administration on that issue, should he be elected? Do you see any major change in national policy towards Cuba?

John Dean: I think the vice president, in expressing his sympathies for the Gonzales situation, was not necessarily indicating a change in policy. However, the entire episode has forced Washington leaders to start re-thinking the Cuba policy. So it would not surprise me that the next administration, regardless of whether it be a Gore or Bush administration, will address this matter.

Question from I: Should gun manufacturers be held liable for juvenile shootings?

John Dean: Chuckle. I am sure that those who suffer from misuse of weapons would love to be part of a class action against gun manufacturers. However, it appears federal and local policy is still much in flux about the process of holding manufacturers liable. It has been years since I have studied the issue, and have nothing more than newspaper knowledge about what is taking place.

Question from Katt: As a Watergate alumnus, how do you feel about the special prosecutor statute?

John Dean: Another good question. As you know, the Independent Counsel law expired last June. Because both Republicans and Democrats have now had unpleasant experiences under the statute, there appears to be little disposition by either side to revive the law.

It is a law that was truly a post-Watergate experiment, which has proved less than successful. There have been virtually no significant prosecutions under the law, in the 20 years of its existence, which has tended to catch up smaller figures than the targets of investigations. It is interesting the Watergate special prosecutors recommended against such a law. Their prediction that it could be politically abused came true. I doubt it will be reenacted, because the attorney general, and the president, of course, have the existing power to appoint a "special prosecutor" when necessary.

Watergate was resolved by a special prosecutor that preexisted the Independent Counsel law. In short, it is not necessary to deal with any potential problems.

CNN Host: In what ways do you think the Nixon era and Watergate had the most lasting impact on politics?

John Dean: The negative aspects of the Nixon presidency certainly created a public and Washington understanding of behavior that was totally unacceptable in public office. Throughout the Clinton impeachment proceeding, for example, there were references to Mr. Nixon and Watergate. I suspect that because of the type of abuses occurring during the Nixon presidency, and the fact that those that occurred during the Clinton presidency were so different, the Congress, particularly the Senate, was able to resolve how to deal with the misconduct of Mr. Clinton. In short, Watergate set the clear standard of unacceptable behavior.

Question from Candyce: Mr. Dean, do you think the Nixon era forever changed the way we view politics, especially in terms of media aggressively investigating and reporting every flaw in our candidates?

John Dean: That's a good question. After Watergate, the relationship between the president and the media did change. Before Watergate, presidents were given the benefit of doubt. After Watergate, they were presumed guilty until they proved themselves innocent. Because so much of the media missed the Watergate story, until it fell into their laps, they were determined to never let that happen again. Thus, subsequent presidents have had to deal with a far more distrusting media.

Question from Katt: Who do you think Deep Throat was?

John Dean: For those interested in Deep Throat, my former colleague, Leonard Garment, recently wrote a book about his search for Deep Throat. He came up with John Sears (a Nixon aide until he left the White House in 1969.)

But Mr. Sears denies he is Deep Throat. Over the years, I have had several conversations with Bob Woodward, on this subject.

I don't doubt there is one person who was his so-called Deep Throat source.

Indeed at one point, I tried to figure it out myself, and thought it was Al Haig. Haig denied it. Woodward tells me that Deep Throat has been publicly identified, but has denied it publicly.

The misunderstood fact about Deep Throat is not how much he knew, rather how little he knew, and how wrong much of the information he gave Woodward was. This makes it apparent that he was operating on second- and third-hand hearsay, which is one of the reasons it is so difficult to figure out his identity.

Len Garment has continued his search, and tells me he will have further information to report. I plan to continue to play with it because it is the only mystery relating to Watergate, and it is as close to a miracle as you can have within the Beltway, which is a zone where secrets are never kept.

Question from rummy: Mr. Dean, what would you consider your favorite personal anecdote with re: to President Nixon?

John Dean: One of the more interesting anecdotes which occurs to me is that he had great difficulty in dealing with people, notwithstanding his being a politician. He was truly a politician who seemed uncomfortable in small one-on-one relationships, and the most amazing indoctrination for me at the Nixon White House, was the fact we had to prepare "talking papers" for the president when we brought someone into the Oval Office.

As a part of the talking paper, we even had to suggest subjects of small talk for the resident, to engage in with his guests. It always struck me as bizarre that a man could become president, and be so uncomfortable in intimate small conversations with strangers. I probably have a dozen or 10 dozen stories, but that happens to be the one that popped in my head this morning.

CNN Host: Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share with us today?

John Dean: My departing thought is to make sure that you vote, regardless of who you vote for, and if you can help a neighbor or friend, who may have trouble getting to the polls to vote. It is distressing that only 50 percent of eligible voters typically show up at the poll. In other democracies, for example in Europe, 80-90 percent of eligible voters show up. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation for our voting habits. So please encourage others to participate come Election Day.