John Dean

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Before becoming White House counsel at age thirty-one, he was the chief minority counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives, and an associate deputy attorney general at the US Department of Justice. His undergraduate studies were at Colgate University and the College of Wooster, with majors in English Literature and Political Science; then a graduate fellowship at American University to study government and the presidency before entering Georgetown University Law Center, where he received his JD with honors in 1965.

John recounted his days at the Nixon White House and Watergate in two books: Blind Ambition (1976) and Lost Honor (1982). After retiring from a business career as a private investment banker doing middle-market mergers and acquisitions, he returned to full-time writing and lecturing, including as a columnist for FindLaw's Writ (from 2000 to 2010) and Justia’s Verdict (since 2010). Donald Trump’s election and presidency have created renewed interest in (and sales of) John’s earlier New York Times best-sellers: Conservatives Without Conscience (2006), which explains the authoritarian direction of the conservative movement that resulted in Trump’s election a decade before it happened, and Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (2008), which addresses the consequences of GOP control of government. His most recent bestseller, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It (2014), is currently being developed by Entertainment One and ABC Television into an eight or ten-hour miniseries entitled “Watergate.”

John held the Barry M. Goldwater Chair of American Institutions at Arizona State University (academic years 2015-16), and for the past decade and a half he has been a visiting scholar and lecturer at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications. Currently, Dean is working on his twelfth book about Donald Trump’s presidency, while providing commentary and analysis on the Trump presidency as a CNN News contributor and analyst, and teaching continuing legal education (CLE) programs that examine the impact of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct on select historic events from Watergate (and the Trump presidency) with surprising results – see

Columns by John Dean

Dealing With National Security Leaks: Obama’s “Plumbers”: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on how certain presidents—specifically, Nixon, Bush, and Obama—have respectively chosen to deal with national security leaks. Most strikingly, Dean notes that President Obama still fully embraces an only slightly modified Bush/Cheney viewpoint on dealing with leaks of national security information. And that Obama position, Dean points out, is quite notable, since such thinking can be traced directly to Richard Nixon’s infamous “Plumbers.” In the column, Dean also tells the story of the original “Plumbers,” to illuminate the parallel. Dean will continue his series on this topic with Part Two on June 14, here on Justia’s Verdict.

President Obama’s Burgeoning Scandals—Benghazi, IRS, and AP’s Telephone Logs—Are All Smoke and No Fire

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean discusses each of the three scandals on which the media are currently focusing. After commenting on the nature of modern political scandals generally, Dean focuses on the Benghazi scandal, the scandal regarding the IRS’s targeting conservative organizations, and the scandal regarding DOJ’s subpoenaing AP telephone records. Each scandal, Dean concludes, will not be found significant in the end.

Unfortunately, Conspiracy Theorists Are Now Busy Concocting Bizarre Explanations of The Boston Marathon Bombing

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean discusses the troubling conspiracy theories that have arisen in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing—including the “false flag attack” claim postulating that the Boston bombing was the work of the government, intended to result in taking weapons away from Americans. Dean discusses these and other conspiracy theories, and why some people believe in them, drawing in part on academic papers on the subject. Dean also notes the role of the conspiracy entrepreneurs, who profit in some way from propagating the belief in the conspiracy, and the cost we may be paying for the popularity of conspiracy theories, particularly ones that are anti-government.

Unstated Findings of the Detainee Treatment Report: Bush/Cheney & Co. Are War Criminals

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the bipartisan Detainee Treatment report that was recently released by The Constitution Project (TCP). Dean characterizes the report’s findings as nothing less than devastating. In particular, Dean notes that the report leads Dean—who serves on the TCP committee on Liberty & Security—to conclude that Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as others, engaged in war crimes. Dean focuses especially on TCP’s most notable findings in his column.

Was the Recording of Senator Mitch McConnell’s Campaign a Watergate-like Event, and Was It Illegal?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the recent controversy over the recording of Senator Mitch McConnell's campaign. Though some have compared the incident to Watergate, and suggested that the recording was illegal, Dean contends that neither the Watergate comparison nor the suggestion of illegality is accurate, and explains exactly why.

Republicans’ Ongoing Desperation: They’re Still Attacking Voters and Government

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on recent Republican ploys, such as seeking to disenfranchise those who will likely vote for Democrats. Dean contends that the GOP has forgotten the basics of American democracy, and that its anti-government stance and its attacks on spending are creating new and unnecessary problems, when there are many other problems that we have yet to effectively address. Dean also warns that America only works based on widespread human decency, a tenet that he contends that the Republicans are testing.

Senator Ted Cruz (R TX): The Tea Party’s New Intellectual at Work

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on Senator Ted Cruz, who has made news lately. Deeming Cruz an authoritarian conservative, Dean discusses Cruz’s recent clash with fellow Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Cruz’s background and views. Dean also argues that while some call Cruz a wacko, he is better described as a troll; and explains why even some conservative commentators are finding Cruz to be going beyond their limits.

End Republican Party Obstructionism: Follow the California Model

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean argues that Republican obstructionism in Washington, DC today can be solved in ways similar to those that defeated Republican obstructionism in California. Dean chronicles key events in California’s experience, commenting on the Schwarzenegger Administration and the most recent Brown Administration, and remarking upon the ways in which Democrats, Labor, and Progressives made the Republican Party irrelevant in California, with tactics including registration drives targeting ignored categories of voters. Dean also details the five-step process used in California to defeat Republican obstructionism, and suggests how a similar process could be used at the national level, as well.

Some, Albeit Little, Hope for Voting Reform

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean discusses President Obama’s State of the Union voting commission proposal, and the two well-known Washington lawyers—one a Democrat, the other a Republican—who will head the Commission. The Commission will be tasked with improving the voting experience for Americans, in the face of, among other voting problems, reports of extremely long lines at the polls in some states in 2012. Dean argues that the history of presidential commissions is not encouraging, but that President Obama’s Commission could do some good if it focused on preventing a repeat of Republicans’ efforts in 2012 election to make voting more difficult, and thus advantage their own party.

Eric Cantor’s GOP Rebranding: Same Old Same Old

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean offers a sharp critique of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent speech, “Make Life Work for More People.” Dean sees the speech as a pure public relations move, to initiate a kind of rebranding of the Republican Party. Dean contends, though, that there is nothing truly new in Cantor’s speech, if one reads it closely, with an eye to history. Dean comments specifically on five areas on which Cantor commented: education, healthcare, workplace reforms, immigration and innovation, and in each area deems Cantor’s views mundane. Dean also locates Cantor’s views within modern conservatism and its key thinkers.

Dealing With Aaron Swartz in the Nixonian Tradition: Overzealous Overcharging Leads to a Tragic Result

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the Aaron Swartz case—in which the brilliant young computer programmer was, according to many commentators, including Dean himself, overzealously prosecuted—and eventually chose suicide over the likely lengthy prison sentence that he faced, based on his downloading for free numerous journal articles that otherwise would have cost money to access, and using MIT facilities to do so. Dean recalls instances where others have proved more reasonable, such as the case of a Vietnam War demonstrator with which Dean was familiar, and deems the Swartz case an instance of blatant prosecutorial overcharging. Dean also warns that there is nothing unusual about Swartz's case, in that prosecutorial overcharging is rife.

Why President Obama Could Easily Be Impeached Over the Debt Ceiling If Congress Fails to Raise It

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean discusses the debt-ceiling crisis and how it might play out. Dean notes that if both sides remain adamant in their positions, we will be in unchartered territory, and that President Obama is refusing to negotiate this time around. To make the stakes here clear, Dean describes the impact of failing to raise the debt-ceiling limit. Moreover, citing the work of fellow Justia columnists Neil Buchanan and Michael Dorf, Dean also explains the constitutional and legal problems that will arise if the debt ceiling is not raised, and why its not being raised is a real possibility. Dean also questions whether an out-of-control Congress might even attempt to impeach President Obama if he were to be forced to break the law in order to prevent the U.S. from defaulting, and avert a financial catastrophe.

A Necessary Beginning To Ending Capitol Gridlock: Filibuster Reform

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean urges that filibuster reform is vitally necessary if the nation is to get Congress working again. Dean places the problem squarely on Republicans’ shoulders, and describes the Party’s filibuster abuses. He also notes the baleful effect of the Republicans’ use of the filibuster upon the judicial confirmation process, triggering an emergency situation in the judicial branch. Dean comments on what effective filibuster reform would look like; contends that there are no strong arguments against it; and explains the so-called “nuclear option” that Democrats still could invoke if they so chose.

The Ultimate GOP Obstructionism Is Secession, but That Will Never Happen

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the sharp post-election increase in the number of petitions that have been sent to the White House by Americans, seeking certain states’ secession from the Union—totaling 22 states, thus far. (Generally, the Obama White House, via its “We the People” digital forum, welcomes any American to start or sign a petition addressing an issue that concerns him or her, and in some cases, the Administration has responded.) But Dean explains why the secession petitions are—and should be—doomed to fail, as well as being patently unconstitutional, unpatriotic, and illegal. To claim otherwise, as would-be secessionists do, Dean notes, is to utterly ignore the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment. Dean also paints a frightening picture of what post-secession America would be like, in the states that had seceded, if the petitioners were to somehow get their wish.

Why Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge Is Unenforceable and Unconstitutional

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean takes strong issue with the Norquist Pledge, which Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist has asked Members of Congress to sign. The Pledge says, “I [insert name] pledge to the taxpayers of the state of [insert name], and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” The Pledge has become significant in the context of raising taxes as a solution to the potential “fiscal cliff” crisis. Dean contends that the Pledge is not only a bad idea, but also one that violates the Constitution. Moreover, Dean points out that, as the pledge is not a valid contract, for it is missing key elements that contract law requires, it is also not enforceable as such.

The Politics of Polarization and Obstructionism

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean takes strong issue with Republican polarization and obstructionism. Moreover, Dean explains why and how these strategies have worked for Republicans over the years, tracing them back to Newt Gingrich and his supporters, who innovated a three-day work week for Representatives, with their families living in their home districts—the result of which, Dean points out, was that Representatives did not get to know one another well, and there was little chance of collegiality. Now, too, Dean observes, Republicans are also employing obstructionist and divisive tactics. Dean urges that, in light of these developments, it's urgent that journalists and other s chronicle and expose these strategies. Dean is confident, though, that in President Obama, the obstructionists have met their match.

George McGovern: R.I.P. (1922–2012)

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the life and times of former Senator George McGovern, who recently passed away. In addition to chronicling the key events of McGovern's life, McGovern’s passionate campaign to eradicate hunger, and his own friendship with McGovern, Dean also comments on the perhaps unlikely friendship between McGovern, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Barry Goldwater—the kind of cross-party bond, forged to serve the good of the nation, that Dean notes that we are, unfortunately, unlikely to see today.

How Mitt Romney Forgot His Legal Thinking at the Hofstra Debate

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean notes that Mitt Romney attended both law school and business school, and contends that Romney forgot to think like a lawyer at the recent Hofstra debate. Before commenting specifically on Romney, Dean addresses the controversy about whether lawyers think differently than other people. One position is that thinking like a lawyer is simply thinking clearly and critically; the other position is that thinking like a lawyer is a unique skill that only those who have learned that skill in law school possess, in part because lawyers are taught to follow past precedent, even if they think it is wrongly decided—which is not the case in other professions. Dean notes that lawyers must also meet the requirements of the bar, and follow the jurisdiction’s Rules of Professional Conduct. While Romney is an attorney, Dean argues, he is much more of a businessman, and Dean notes that GOP businessmen have, over history, fared poorly in the Oval Office, and cites both Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush as examples.

The First 2012 Presidential Debate: How the Incumbent Got Trapped

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean argues that Mitt Romney’s win in the first presidential debate will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory, which will also help the Democrats. Dean discusses presidential debates from their very beginning, with Kennedy versus Nixon in 1960, up to the present. In commenting on the first Obama/Romney debate, Dean describes the “incumbent’s trap,” which he defines as the ability of the challenger to force the incumbent to defend his record—for even a strong record can be criticized, and as Americans, we can be unrealistic about what we expect our presidents to accomplish while in office. Meanwhile, the challenger can promise voters the moon. Numerous incumbents, Dean notes, have fallen into this very trap, though in Clinton/Dole, Clinton managed to avoid it by dominating the debate. Dean then analyzes the Obama/Romney debate—arguing that it needed much more moderation and fewer open-ended topics. Ultimately, though, Dean contends that Obama’s loss there will have a silver lining: Post-debate, the Obama team can now correct the many instances where Romney stretched or outright ignored the truth, and Democratic voters will be reminded that an Obama win is far from a foregone conclusion.

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: The Sources of Washington’s Current Problems

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the current, unfortunate state of American government—paralyzed by inaction, even in the midst of a troubled economy. In his analysis of the situation, Dean draws upon Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein’s work It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. Dean deems the book to be a very important one to read, especially for Republicans, for part of the current problem, according to Dean, and to Mann and Ornstein, is the intransigence and the growing extremism of the Republican Party. Another part of the problem, they argue, is the sorry state of contemporary American journalism. Dean distills some of Mann and Ornstein’s suggestions for addressing the problems that they isolate—and notes that just five changes in the way American journalism is done now could make a profound difference.