John Dean: Trump Is Worse Than Nixon—'This Is the...Stuff of a Banana Republic'

Former White House counsel John Dean—one of the central figures in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s—implied that President Donald Trump's behavior in the White House was more extreme than that of disgraced former President Richard Nixon.

"If I had to channel a little of Richard Nixon, I think he'd tell this president he's going too far. This is the sort of stuff of a banana republic. This is what an autocrat does."

Dean made his remarks on CNN, following reports that Trump had pressured the Department of Justice to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In an interview with Dean, CNN host John Berman asked: "You just said that Richard Nixon would tell Donald Trump he's going too far?"

Dean replied: "I think he would… This is a level that Richard Nixon never went to where you went after somebody's personal well-being by a criminal prosecution."

Berman called such a plan "the definition of Nixonian."

According to a Tuesday report in The New York Times, Trump's efforts to prosecute two of his most prominent adversaries received pushback from White House counsel Don McGahn, who left his post last month. McGahn told Trump, according to The Times's report, that the president did not have the authority to order legal action.

McGahn's lawyer, William Burck, told The Times that the former White House counsel would not discuss his legal advice to the president. "Like any client, the president is entitled to confidentiality," Burck explained, though he added that McGahn noted, "The president never, to his knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James Comey."

Dean—who was fired by Nixon during the Watergate scandal, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and later become a key witness for the prosecution—told Berman that Trump "won't back off" in his pursuit of authoritarian politics "until he's forced to."

McGahn and other White House lawyers reportedly followed up their advice with a letter warning Trump of a range of possible consequences that could befall him if he pursued prosecution, including impeachment.

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Referring to the infamous Nixon White House tapes that were central to the Watergate investigation that brought Nixon down, Dean said, "I've listened to all the tapes that are relevant. While I heard him break the law on some of those tapes, I never heard him do it by turning on his enemies and trying to put them in jail. This is really very, very heavy sledding."

According to The Times, it was unclear whether Trump had continued to pursue prosecution. Citing two people who had spoken to the president about the issue, the news outlet reported that Trump had continued to discuss the matter in private and had even proposed appointing a special counsel to investigate Clinton and Comey.

Tuesday's revelations raise further concerns about Trump's apparent political use of the Justice Department, which the president appears to consider not an independent body but a partisan tool to support his administration and harass his critics.

The forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month was followed by the appointment of Trump supporter Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general. Whitaker, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, said during the 2016 presidential campaign that Clinton should have been indicted for using a private email account to handle classified documents while serving as secretary of state.

Though Whitaker has not been permanently appointed to the role, past comments criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election—which has already secured convictions against multiple Trump associates—have also prompted warnings that the acting attorney general may use his position primarily to protect the president.

This article has been updated with a comment from Don McGahn's lawyer, William Burck.