“It seems more likely that responsible and disgusted Republicans — who now call themselves independents – will be the ones to start calling their former compatriots to task.” – John W. Dean, Broken Government. Viking Penguin, c2007.
I’d say the calling to task of not just the Trump presidency but the mentality that supports him has begun. Let’s hope.
Old-timers surely remember John Dean. He was a former Republican and White House Council for Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. His honesty and cooperation with the prosecution led to Nixon’s leaving office in the face of impeachment.
A few years ago, I bought Dean’s book “Broken Government,” on sale somewhere for a few bucks. Laid it on the shelf. Then the title hollered, “READ ME.”
If any book forecast our nation’s situation today better than Dean’s, I haven’t seen it. Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, like Dean, has proclaimed conscience over party label (not that making a deal to avoid penalties didn’t help). Trump is in panic mode as the Mueller investigation into pre-election ties with Russia deepens. He is tweeting his rear off… and might be wearing Depends. (Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. I don’t know.)
It’s so reminiscent of Nixon and Watergate. It involves something called “the unitary executive theory” sometimes called the imperial presidency. That’s when a president claims total authority and control over all pieces and parts of the executive branch. Its proponents then and now use Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution to justify such imperial control. That’s how Nixon justified efforts to attack political opponents and hide criminal activity. He saw it as his right. Dean was there.
Of that period, Dean writes: “Most Americans found Nixon’s imperial presidency — with its excessive secrecy, abuses of power, its corruption of governmental processes, and its efforts to place the president and his men above and beyond the law — deeply troubling.”
In response, Congress passed the Independent Council Act, which permitted investigation of the president or others in the executive branch without the President interfering. That has expired. Now a boring review, of recent history, if you’re not busy watching a ball game or something just as important:
To investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, former FBI director Robert Mueller III has been appointed as “special council” by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A special counsel has essentially the same rights as an independent council. They are responsible, however, to the attorney general appointed by the president.
Thus, AG Sessions was soon bullied into “resigning” by authoritarian Trump because he recused himself; i.e., would not interfere with Mueller’s investigation. And, dammit, Deputy AG Rosenstein refused to cow-tow, also. So, Trump has installed Matthew Whittaker as acting AG to be a better butt-kisser and put a lid on Mueller somehow. If he does, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.SC) put it, there would be “hell to pay” (whatever that means). So, what if Mueller finds a witch or two in Trump’s very, very, tremendous undies?
Okay, then it goes to court. John Dean’s comments on that happening are every bit as relevant today as it was 11 years ago. The question will be whether Trump can be compelled to testify under oath and be cross-examined. Or whether his imperial title puts him above the law.
John Dean warns of judges he classes as “fundamentalists” who “believe that the Constitution must be interpreted according ‘to the original understanding.’ They take the Constitution as meaning today what it meant at the time it was ratified in 1789. If the Constitution did not originally prohibit ...discriminating based on race, prohibit Congress from banning child labor, or provide broad protection from political dissent, then there is no authority for such actions today.”
Such judges are also biased toward a unitary or imperial presidency above the law — one in complete control of any and all executive branches — especially when those investigations could lead to impeachment. The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh swings the Supreme Court further in the unitary presidency direction.
And if you buy Chief Justice John Robert’s recent claim that judicial appointments are not politically biased and have not been increasingly so since the days of Ronald Reagan, it’s important that you read Dean’s book. They have been.
Feel free to share this column, especially with Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Maybe they can be two of the responsible and disgusted Republicans Dean referred to in the opening quote.
John Dean’s been around. We can learn from him.
Bob Hooper is a 4th generation Western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.