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 www.WatergateCLE.com

Columns by John Dean

Getting Watergate’s History Right: Max Holland’s Page-Turner Explaining Deep Throat’s Motives

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean discusses recent Watergate-related books and other writings, as we approach Watergate’s 40th anniversary. Dean makes the interesting observation that as more and more information is being released about Watergate, more writers are getting its history wrong, perhaps because of the difficulty of sifting through the massive record that now exists. Dean praises Mark Holland, however, as a sterling exception to that rule—noting that Holland’s book, which focuses on why Mark Felt became “Deep Throat,” shows an excellent command of the record, and indeed, casts light on a dark subject. In contrast, Dean notes that another respected journalist lacked the command of the record truly necessary to write accurately and insightfully about Watergate.

The Story and Legacy of the Greatest Judge of His Era, Henry Friendly

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the imminent publication of a biography by David M. Dorsen of esteemed jurist Henry Friendly, Henry Friendly: Greatest Judge of His Era. As Dean explains, Judge Friendly served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1959-1986, and his decisionmaking drew the highest praise from fellow judges and Justices. Dean provides an overview of the biography’s coverage, and notes that its emphasis is not on what Friendly decided, but rather on his decisionmaking process. Dean contends that this work—the product of six years’ research and hundreds of interviews—is not to be missed by either the serious scholar or the general reader. (Dean notes, for full disclosure, that he is a friend of Dorsen’s, but also quotes high praise for the book from Judge Richard Posner and others.)

Predicting Presidential Performance: Why Mitt Romney Would Be an Active/Negative President Like Bush II, Nixon, LBJ, Hoover, and Wilson

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the leadership style that Mitt Romney would likely employ if he were to be elected president. In characterizing Romney’s likely style, Dean relies in part on a framework developed by James David Barber in his book “The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House.” As Dean explains, Barber puts presidents into four categories, based on two factors: (1) how actively or passively the president performs in his political role; and (2) whether the president enjoys or dislikes the activities that his role requires. Whereas Dean deems President Obama an active/positive president under Barber’s scheme, like JFK and Clinton, Dean believes that Romney would be an active/negative president, as was George W. Bush. In light of these categorizations, Dean concludes that Obama ought to be allowed to finish what he has started, with a second term in office, and that—based on news accounts and on two recent biographies of Romney—a Romney presidency could well be more than the country can handle at this point in time.

The Montana Supreme Court Arguably Flouts the Citizens United Ruling: Will It Be Reversed?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on a recent Montana Supreme Court (MSC) ruling that purports to find an exception to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in its Citizens United v. FEC decision. (Citizens United held that corporate campaign contributions are protected as political speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) However, the MSC held that Montana’s own statute, the Montana Corrupt Practices Act, with its ban on corporate contributions, was importantly different from the ban on corporate campaign money that had been at issue in Citizens United, in part due to Montana history. In support of its holding, the MSC reasoned that Montana had a compelling state interest in the enforcement of the Act—especially as the evidence showed that the passage of the Act had been spurred by the situation that existed when it was passed, one hundred years ago, when Montana government was deeply corrupted by corporate influence. Dean notes that it is unclear whether the Supreme Court will intervene here—and whether, if it does, Montana’s unique history and special vulnerability to corporate influence, based on a number of factors, might save its longstanding statute.

The Back Story of the Unsealing of Nixon’s Grand Jury Testimony

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean describes and comments on the process by which former President Richard Nixon’s previously sealed grand jury testimony (along with related materials) was revealed in July 2011—a process in which Dean himself played a key role. Dean gives great credit for the unsealing both to Public Citizen's Litigation Group, headed by Allison Zieve, which took the case; and Judge Royce Lamberth, who made the ruling that led the grand jury testimony and related materials to become public—as had occurred earlier in famous cases such as those of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss, based on the rulings of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Dean also notes that this, and other material that is still being transcribed, encompass the last real secrets of Watergate.

Cyberbullying on Twitter, Part Two: Essential First Steps to Take When Dealing With a Bully

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean continues his series about cyberbullying and harassment on Twitter. In this installment, Part Two in the ongoing series, Dean comments on possible ways to end and/or punish Twitter bullying. Dean notes that the large majority of Twitter users are friendly and amicable, but points out that there are also a few malcontents on Twitter. These users, he explains, engage in calculated efforts to hurt, embarrass, falsely discredit, or defame others, based on their beliefs or Tweets. How should peaceable Twitter users deal with the troublemakers in their midst? Dean offers interesting advice—based in part on Twitter's own rules and its recommendations for dealing with bullies, and in part on the possibility of invoking outside avenues to address the problem.

Cyberbullying on Twitter, Part One: The Anonymous Cowards

In the first of a series of columns focusing on cyberbullying, Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean takes very strong issue with those who engage in this kind of online intimidation on Twitter—and, particularly, those who do so anonymously or pseudonymously. Drawing on academic studies, Dean begins by specifically describing the nature of bullying and bullies. Carefully distinguishing bullying from genuine and valid criticism, Dean notes that true bullies are often troubled personalities and considers the influences (including biological influences) and choices that play a role in the making of a bully—noting that some of the underlying conditions that influence bullying are actually treatable. He terms the cyberbully who proceeds anonymously or pseudonymously the “uber coward” among bullies, contrasting the cyberbully with the schoolyard or workplace bully. Finally, Dean invites American lawyers to share with him their legal anti-cyberbully strategies.

The Republican Dream for the 2012 Presidential Election: Control of the U.S. Supreme Court

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John W. Dean discusses a less-remarked but extremely important aspect of the 2012 presidential race: Its outcome may exert a profound influence on the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, if the Republican candidate prevails. As Dean explains, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg approaching her eighties, and having experienced some health issues, Republicans foresee her possible retirement from the Court. And, if a Republican President were to be elected in 2012, and Ginsburg were indeed to retire, then that President would have a chance to create a solid conservative majority on the Court. Dean describes the Court’s current composition, and contends that if a conservative were indeed to take Justice Ginsburg’s (or another moderate or progressive Justice’s) spot, that would create a majority that would be not only conservative, but also radical and fundamentalist in its conservatism. Such a majority, Dean notes, would put the Court far out of step with Americans’ views. Indeed, Dean predicts, drawing in part on the work of Martin Garbus, that a conservative majority could even take America back to a pre-New Deal world—and one where long-established rights are abolished or severely compromised. He thus urges even the most unhappy former Obama supporter to think seriously about the fate of the Supreme Court when casting his or her vote.

An Unfortunate Potential Situation for the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the Occupy Wall Street movement, in light of his own experience with Vietnam War protests. During the war, Dean initially served as an associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, often acting as a mediator between the protesters and the government. Later, he served as Counsel to President Nixon and as the Nixon Administration’s top anti-war protest intelligence analyst. While Dean applauds and supports today’s Occupy Wall Street movement, he warns that the movement may encounter some of the same problems that the Vietnam War protesters faced. In particular, Dean observes that the Occupy Wall Street movement is likely to grow in size and duration. Indeed, he contends that—since the problems the Occupy Wall Street movement decries cannot be solved by a single action, such as ending a war—the movement’s duration has the potential to exceed that of the Vietnam War protests. Dean also regretfully predicts that the Occupy Wall Street movement will inevitably lead to violence, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the members of the movement absolutely do not want violence. Finally, Dean notes that today’s much faster communications technology may lead to a faster escalation toward violence, if violence does occur, than happened in the past. Thus, he concludes the challenge for the movement is to keep any violence that occurs isolated and contained.

Thoughts on the Politics of the Sexual Harassment Charges Against Herman Cain

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the political aspect of the ongoing scandal regarding allegations of sexual harassment by presidential candidate Herman Cain. Dean notes that Cain’s initial, ineffective response to the allegations was to stonewall, but that he rapidly switched strategies and commented on the allegations. This second strategy, Dean notes, was also ineffective. Dean characterizes Cain’s current strategy as a mix of two strategies used by other public figures: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (when he was a candidate). Dean notes that Thomas attacked the messenger and impugned her motive, while denying the charges against him, despite the strong evidence supporting them. In contrast, he explains, Schwarzenegger—when his behavior toward women (including groping) became a campaign issue—half-apologized to the women at issue, and enlisted his wife’s aid in restoring his reputation. Dean believes Cain is now hoping the story will go away, but predicts that—to the contrary—the story will play out as long as Cain is a viable candidate, and until it finds its consequences. Cain, Dean suggests, will seem to be winning over the scandal at first, before a media-hating public, but will lose out in the end, due to a combination of the scandal and an otherwise very poorly run campaign.

Gaming American Democracy: Recent, Unprecedented Republican Obstructionism and Abuse of the Senate’s Rules

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean continues his ongoing series examining the new techniques that are being employed by Republicans to alter the political landscape. In this column, Dean contends that due to Republicans’ tactics, the U.S. Senate no longer operates as our nation’s founders intended. He cites specific examples of the kind of obstructionism that has allowed Republicans to thwart majority will—such as their refusing to allow Democrats’ witnesses to testify based on technicalities; putting “holds” on judicial and executive nominees and on bills; and misusing the filibuster. Dean also takes strong issue with the news media for reporting on such Republican tactics as if they were simply business as usual.

Gaming American Democracy: A Perfect Storm in Which Republicans Disenfranchise Voters While Giving Corporations Unchecked Powers

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean continues his series of columns on the new techniques being employed by Republicans to alter the political landscape. In this column, Dean notes that some public attention was paid to these tactics after the controversy regarding Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin unions, but also emphasizes that other tactics are even now being played out behind closed doors. In particular, Dean focuses on the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a very powerful corporate lobby, whose members include over 2,400 conservative state lawmakers. Dean explains that the 2010 elections proved to be a perfect storm for ALEC and its conservative partners, and—relying in part on strong reportage from Mother Jones, The Nation, and Rolling Stone—Dean details some of ALEC’s activities (such as supplying pre-cooked McBills for state legislators to pass), and some of its funding influences. Dean expresses particular concern over ALEC’s activities that aim to limit the ability of some Americans to vote, which President Clinton has decried.

Gaming American Democracy: How New Republican Techniques Seek to Change the Political System Itself

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean begins a new series of columns on current Republican political strategies and approaches. Dean describes what is happening now as the return of Nixonian politics, on steroids, and he contends that today, Republican operatives are employing strategies to empower themselves that would never succeed at the ballot box if voters fully understood what was occurring. Dean notes that this attempt to transform our political system is receiving little news coverage, and offer some reasons why, including Americans’ disinterest in “process” issues and the fact that mainstream news organizations are largely controlled by highly profit-driven major corporations, and those companies’ executives often lean toward Republican views. Dean focuses, especially, on the role of the Tea Party, which he describes as “the tip of the conservative iceberg” now, while also contending that the real story is not about the Tea Party, but about other, more mainstream Republicans who are in power today, and their political strategies.

Reflections on the 9/11 Attacks’ Lasting Impact on America, and American Law

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John W. Dean comments on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with a special emphasis on the legacy of the attacks for American law. Dean begins by assessing how foreign media sources—whose perspectives, he explains, may be somewhat more detached than Americans’, yet who often interviewed Americans as sources—see the anniversary of 9/11. In addition, Dean contends that, where American law is concerned, the legacy of 9/11 is a baleful one. In support of his claim, Dean points to a post-9/11 proliferation of laws (some with sunset provisions, some without) that, he contends, go beyond all previous limits of constitutional propriety. Dean focuses in particular on the Patriot Act, and the infamous torture memo. All told, Dean concludes, the fallout of the 9/11 attacks has had a highly negative impact on American law.

A Closer Look At The Defamation Lawsuits Against Eliot Spitzer: Why They Seem Quite Weak

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John W. Dean discusses a set of interesting defamation lawsuits that were filed, earlier this month, in New York federal and state courts, against former New York Attorney General (and, later, New York Governor) Eliot Spitzer. The suits are based on an opinion piece that Spitzer wrote for Slate.com, about a year ago, which concerned past criminal charges that had been brought against employees of insurance/finance powerhouse Marsh & McLennan. Dean covers the background law on public-figure defamation suits; explains why the plaintiffs in the suits against Spitzer may have trouble meeting the basic defamation-law requirement that the statements at issue must be “of and concerning” them; and notes that if New York had a stronger anti-SLAPP statute, Spitzer might have been able to file a countersuit against the two plaintiffs who are suing him.

Why News Corp.’s Board of Directors Is Clearly Still Under Rupert Murdoch’s Control

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean continues his commentary on the scandal regarding the reported hacking of voicemail messages by News Corp. employees. In this column, Dean contends that—despite Rupert Murdoch’s strong suggestions to the contrary—the Board of Directors of News Corp. is far from independent of Murdoch himself. Even so-called independent directors, Dean explains, have close ties to the Murdochs, and have been described by reporters as “Friends of Rupert.” Dean focuses, in particular, on the independent director Viet Dinh. And overall, he argues, citing a number of experts, that the News Corp. board’s standards when it comes to corporate governance and independent directors, are far too low.

The Tea Party: Same Old Authoritarian Conservatives With a New Label

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John W. Dean comments on the Tea Party movement. Dean contends that, far from being a truly new force, the Tea Party’s membership is recognizable as consisting of the very kind of authoritarian conservatives America has often seen in past politics. Drawing on the work of Professor Robert Altemeyer, who devoted much of his career to studying the authoritarian personality, Dean notes the telltale characteristics of authoritarian conservative; argues that each of these signal qualities can be seen clearly in Tea Party movement adherents; and cautions that authoritarians do not tend to do well, over the long haul, in a democracy.

Rupert Murdoch’s Watergate: The Troubling Parallels

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the voicemail hacking scandal surrounding News Corp.’s News of the World, drawing a parallel between the unfolding of this scandal and the unfolding of Watergate. Dean applies the framework sketched out in Cambridge sociologist John B. Thompson’s 2000 work Political Scandal: Power and Visibility in the Media Age to predict what will happen next to Rupert Murdoch, the Chair and CEO of News Corp.

Rod Blagojevich’s Second Trial – and Conviction: Why He Lost This Time

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the second trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, on charges related to a number of instances of political corruption – one of which, perhaps most famously, relates to filling then-President-elect Obama’s open Senate seat. (Obama himself played no part in the scheme). Dean explains why, in Blagojevich’s first trial, he was convicted on only one count, whereas in this second trial, the jury found him guilty on 17 of 20 counts. Dean also covers the unusual voting system that the jury used during its deliberation and offers telling samples of the recordings that led to the conviction. In addition, he parallels Blagojevich’s defense with Nixon’s, and considers – based on conversations with a number of sentencing experts – what sentence Blagojevich may receive. Finally , Dean concludes that any appeal will likely fail, as the judge who oversaw the trial is seen as too intelligent and able to have erred on the law.