As It Happens

Nixon's lawyer 'having nightmares' over Donald Trump presidency

John Dean has been described as a 'master manipulator' of the Watergate scandal cover-up. And he's so worried about Donald Trump's impending presidency that he says it's giving him nightmares.
John Dean, White House counsel to former US president Richard M. Nixon, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2006. Dean says he's so worried at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency that he's having nightmares. (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

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One of the key figures implicated in the Watergate scandal says he's so worried about Donald Trump's impending presidency that he's having nightmares.

John Dean was White House Counsel to Richard Nixon. He was so involved in the scandal that the FBI called him the "master manipulator of the cover-up," and he would later play a key role in exposing it. He pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice in exchange for his damning testimony and a lenient sentence. 

This man doesn't even have a good newspaper knowledge of how the presidency works, and very little inclination, from everything I can see, to try to learn.- John Dean, former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon

Ever since, Dean has kept a close eye on presidential abuses of power. On Wednesday, he spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

John Dean in 1973. (Oliver F. Atkins/Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library)
Helen Mann: Mr. Dean, what is on your mind now that the inauguration of Donald Trump is days away?

John Dean: Donald Trump is on my mind. (Laughs). He's probably the least qualified person we've ever had fill the highest office of our country. This man doesn't even have a good newspaper knowledge of how the presidency works, and very little inclination, from everything I can see, to try to learn. He is just — he's going to wing it. And it is not a good place to do that.

HM:  You have said that you've literally been having nightmares about the Trump presidency. Can you describe those for us?
President-elect Donald Trump says his administration won't relocate the press room, but may have to 'pick the people to go into the room.' (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

JD: They started during the campaign when I realized there was a good chance that Trump could win. I'm somebody who doesn't really remember any specifics of my dreams. I just know that because I was having nightmares about Trump in the Oval Office, I forced myself to wake up and get out of bed on more than one occasion because I was dreaming about it. 

Because I was having nightmares about Trump in the Oval Office, I forced myself to wake up and get out of bed on more than one occasion because I was dreaming about it. - John Dean

HM: How do you think President Trump will compare to the president you served under and spent considerable time with, Richard Nixon?

JD: I think he's Richard Nixon on steroids. He's more Nixonian than Nixon. He's really a dark person filled with revenge, enemies, various authoritarian…

HM: And are you talking about Trump now?

JD: I'm talking about Nixon. But he's that way behind closed doors. Trump is that way all the time. He seems to have no control over a public and private personality. And that's a big difference.

HM: Just how much executive power is Donald Trump inheriting from his predecessor, Barack Obama?

JD: A lot. Post-Watergate, the president didn't lose power; the Congress in our system became more of a constitutional equal. But that's faded over the years. And particularly during the Bush-Cheney years, they took a lot of the tools of the presidency that had not been used in a long time out of the closet and started using them. And Barack Obama did not put them away. The American presidency is based on Article II of the Constitution. There are probably not even a thousand words in that part of the Constitution — it's literally a blank cheque. And presidents who are popular can exercise pretty unlimited powers. Presidents who are not have to be more careful.

HM: How do you anticipate Donald Trump will use that blank cheque?

JD: I think he'll test it as far as he can. He doesn't care if he's popular or unpopular. So I think he'll come in and he'll discover the enormous powers they have, and that's one of the reasons I have nightmares.

This transcript has been edited for lenth and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview.

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