With straws firmly grasped, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) summoned disgraced former White House counsel John Dean to testify on Capitol Hill June 10. Calling Dean was a stretch on the part of Nadler, who is clearly willing to try anything to convince the American people that President Donald Trump is a criminal. Dean’s personal animus toward the president is no secret. The role Dean played in the 1972 Watergate affair, though, presented Nadler with the opportunity to draw comparisons between Trump and Richard Nixon.
Such comparisons – or the attempt to imagine any similarities between Watergate and the Russia collusion investigation – have absolutely no purpose or value beyond the shameless manipulation of public opinion.
A Credible Witness?
As counsel to President Nixon, Dean found himself appointed to investigate the possible involvement of White House staff in the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, which targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC). After consistently refusing to write a report clearing Nixon of involvement in a cover-up, Dean was fired and later convicted on obstruction of justice.
Why was Dean called to testify on a matter about which he knows nothing more than the average political pundit? Certainly, there was no legislative purpose to his appearance. Dean’s involvement in the Watergate affair is hardly relevant, either; in 1972, crimes were committed and Nixon was implicated in attempts to cover up – or at least to deny any knowledge of – those crimes.
Watergate was, indeed, a domestic criminal and political conspiracy. Drawing any parallel with the 2016 hacking of the DNC computer networks is comparing apples to oranges; the DNC computers – if, indeed, they were hacked at all – were hacked by a foreign power without the knowledge or assistance of any American. Nixon was accused of attempting to obstruct an investigation into crimes that were known, without question, to have been committed.
By comparison, Trump is being accused by his political opponents of obstructing an investigation into crimes that did not occur outside the fevered imaginations of a certain group of people. All of those people – as their own words have proven – are known to have wanted to prevent Trump’s election to the office of president.
Dean’s testimony was not especially compelling. He described some vague similarities between the Watergate investigation and the Russia investigation, but such similarities could have just as easily been drawn between two investigations into shoplifting, bank fraud, or unlicensed lemonade stands. At the end of the day, the only real comparisons are that both investigations ensnared sitting presidents, neither one of whom was very happy about it.
The end goal for Democrats is the impeachment of the president, as opposed to criminal prosecution. A study of the federal obstruction-of-justice statute shows that it would be no easy task to obtain a conviction in this case. Impeachment, though, is a far easier thing to achieve. The greatest danger to the president’s enemies is public perception. Nadler and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are well aware that they must have the public on their side.
Bringing in Dean to talk about Watergate was nothing more than a stunt. How effective a stunt will become clear soon enough. Ultimately, congressional Democrats have to find a way to distract the American people from the fact that the president is being accused of obstructing a phony investigation into crimes that did not happen. Criminal proceedings are more cut and dried; impeachment is a political exercise with all the issues of partisanship and perception that come with the territory.
Nadler and company are chipping away at public opinion with a line-up of further staged hearings, but will they garner the level of support for impeachment they will need, or will the people’s patience run out before they do?
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