Although he does not foresee a quick end to the special counsel probe into Russian election meddling and aides to President Donald Trump, former White House counsel John Dean noted that the modern media landscape may prevent it from lasting as long as the Watergate investigation, which he said stretched on for 928 days.
"There's social media, there's the internet, the news cycles are faster. I think Watergate would have occurred at a much more accelerated speed than the 928 days it took to go from the arrest at the Watergate to the conviction of (H.R.) Haldeman and (John) Ehrlichman and (John) Mitchell, et al.," he said during a podcast interview with Politico. Dean, who is a CNN contributor, ultimately cooperated with Senate investigators against President Richard Nixon, but he spent four months in jail in 1974 for his role in the scandal, which started with the attempted bugging of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate and snowballed to bring down the Nixon presidency.
"I think there's more likelihood (Nixon) might have survived if there'd been a Fox News," he added, suggesting that more conservative voices critical of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation will be beneficial to Trump.
"I've never seen anything like the display that's happened in the last 20 or so days with Republicans undercutting the special counsel," Dean said of increasing accusations of political bias in the special counsel probe, following the removal of an agent for anti-Trump texts. Critics have argued that these attacks are meant to provide cover if Trump chooses to cause Mueller's firing.
Dean also said Trump could be impeached for incompetence even though that is not spelled out in the Constitution. He argued that it depends on one's perception of what constitutes such an offense, described in the Constitution as "treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors."
"You could impeach a president for being incompetent without committing a crime. What's been argued by anybody who's been subject to impeachment -- this runs from presidents to judges to anybody, any officer of the government -- they've always claimed that it has to be criminal activity, but really there's no such standard," he explained.
"It's high crimes and misdemeanors, as well as bribery and what have you. These are very vague terms. Has Trump committed an impeachable offense? Maybe being unprepared to be president is one, but that's not likely to be," he added.
Dean suggested the Trump White House has a lot to learn from past administrations that have come under investigation and their current conduct gives the appearance they are "hiding something."
"It's really remarkable the little they've learned about what went on in the past. Every signal they've thrown from the get-go has been, 'We're covering this up,' " Dean said. "While Ty Cobb says he's cooperating with the prosecutors, turning over documents and witnesses and what have you. Well, those witnesses should have all been marched down there to the grand jury and said, 'We've got nothing to hide.' "
Cobb, the White House special counsel focused on investigations, told CNN in November that Mueller's team had completed all the interviews it had requested with White House staffers to date. However, Dean said that the Trump team could follow the Obama administration model for potential scandals and "nip these things in the bud."
"The whole attitude has been, 'We're hiding something.' So I can only conclude they are hiding something. I don't know what it is," Dean said.
Although Cobb had expressed optimism that the investigation would come to "an appropriate and prompt conclusion," Dean said that is "wishful thinking."
He also dismissed the argument put forth by Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, that the President cannot obstruct justice. Dean also said he believes that it does not hold water to argue that the President's possibly obstructive actions, such as firing FBI Director James Comey, were the result of him being a political novice.
"Ignorance of the law is really no excuse in our system," Dean said.
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