Democrats launch Trump investigative offensive with Watergate figure John Dean testimony

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By Rebecca Shabad  with NBC News Politics
Image: John Dean
Former White House Counsel John Dean, a key figure in the Watergate scandal, arrived to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.   -  Copyright  J. Scott Applewhite AP

WASHINGTON — Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who played a key role in the Watergate hearings in the 1970s, compared the findings in the Mueller report to Watergate Monday as Democrats launched an ambitious wave of hearings and votes targeting President Donald Trump and his administration.

Dean, who has been critical of the current president's actions in office, said the decision by former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn to turn down a subpoena to testify before the committee amounted to "perpetuating a cover-up," adding that the Mueller report documenting Trump's actions had highlighted several key areas calling for congressional intervention.

"Special counsel [Robert] Mueller has provided this committee with a road map," Dean said in his opening statement at the Monday afternoon hearing.

Earlier Monday, ahead of Dean's testimony, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.reached a deal with the Department of Justice over obtaining underlying evidence from the Mueller report related to possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

The House planned to vote Tuesday on a civil contempt resolutionthat would authorize Democrats, with the assistance of the House general counsel, to go to court and enforce subpoenas, including against former White House counsel Don McGahn. Separately, the measure includes language that would reaffirm the authority that House committee chairs have to expedite going to court to enforce their subpoenas.

And the House Intelligence Committee was expected to hold a rare open hearing Wednesday on the counterintelligence implications of the Mueller report, at which Stephanie Douglas and Robert Anderson, former executive assistant directors of the FBI's national security branch, are scheduled testify.

The push began with Monday the appearance by Dean, who in a brief appearance and eight pages of written testimony laid out six "illustrative" examples of parallels between the Mueller report and Watergate.

Dean wrote that while both President Donald Trump and Nixon were not found to have committed crimes, both the Russia probe and Watergate resulted in obstruction of justice.

The Mueller report, he wrote, "finds no illegal conspiracy, or criminal aiding and abetting, by candidate Trump with the Russians" and during Watergate, he said "I am aware of no evidence that Nixon was involved with or had advance knowledge of the Watergate break-in and bugging, or the similar plans for Senator McGovern."

"Yet events in both 1972 and 2016 resulted in obstruction of the investigations," he continued.

Dean told the panel that McGahn must testify before the Judiciary Committee. McGahn has defied a subpoena from Nadler for his testimony.

"For several reasons I believe he should testify. First, he is a key witness in understanding the Mueller Report. Secondly, I believe as an attorney, he has an ethical obligation to testify," Dean wrote in his testimony. "I sincerely hope that Mr. McGahn will voluntarily appear and testify. His silence is perpetuating an ongoing coverup, and while his testimony will create a few political enemies, based on almost 50 years of experience I can assure him he will make far more real friends."

Dean's testimony on Mueller's report Monday came in lieu of an appearance by the author himself. Mueller, who had been negotiating with the committee about providing testimony to Congress about his two-year investigation, recently made clear that he does not want or plan to speak further about the investigation.

Still, Nadler said last week that he was "confident" the special counsel will still come speak to Congress soon — and is prepared to issue a subpoena to compel him to do so, if necessary.

Other witnesses slated to testify at the hearing Monday included Joyce White Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama; Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan; and John Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government and director of the Meese Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.