Watergate whistleblower and Nixon White House counsel John Dean on Friday predicted Brett Kavanaugh would lead a 5-4 Supreme Court to further enhance presidential power that already is “quickly slipping out of bounds.”
During Senate Judiciary hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Dean warned that, if the judge is confirmed, the Supreme Court “will be the most pro-presidential powers Supreme Court in the modern era.” Evidence that the court is already heading in that direction, he said, is the 5-4 decision in June upholding President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry into the United States of foreign nationals from certain predominantly Muslim countries.
Kavanaugh’s views on presidential power—specifically, whether a sitting president can be indicted and can be required to reply to a subpoena for testimony—dominated questioning from Democratic members, during the three days he sat before the committee.
Democratic senators repeatedly framed their questions in the context of the current special counsel investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, an investigation which has ensnared several former associates of the president. A former campaign adviser was sentenced Friday to a 14-day prison term for lying to federal agents.
“There is a cancer on the presidency as malignant and metastasizing as it was then,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told Dean during one exchange.
Kavanaugh insisted during his testimony that he had not made any promises—or had any “inappropriate conversations—about the Russia investigation. He also said he had not made any pronouncement on the constitutionality of whether a sitting president can be indicted.
Dean told the committee that Kavanaugh has “a very broad view of presidential powers,” would have Congress “immunize” a president from civil and criminal liability while in office and is not clear on whether he really believes U.S. v. Nixon was decided correctly. The latter Supreme Court decision upheld a subpoena to President Richard Nixon for production of certain White House tapes.
Several Democratic members pressed Dean about his own experiences during the Watergate cover-up and subsequent investigation. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware asked him what would have happened, if Nixon had been able to avoid the checks provided by the courts on the president’s refusal to hand over the tapes.
Dean said, “We would have a very different history. Nixon would have survived. It would have been my word against his.”
Not all the reaction to Dean was friendly. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, told Dean, “You did the right thing. I believe you only did it when you were cornered like a rat. It’s hard for me to take your testimony seriously. You hurt the country.”
Dean replied that he tried internally to end the cover-up before going public, but “I didn’t succeed.”
Dean also said he had a “vital process” concern about the Kavanaugh nomination, echoing criticism from Democrats that they’ve been denied access to—or otherwise can’t publicly discuss—thousands of pages of records relating to Kavanaugh. A battle over the release of all documents related to the years Kavanaugh spent as staff secretary to President George W. Bush played out between committee Democrats and Republicans each day of the hearings.
“I’m surprised Judge Kavanaugh is not demanding every document he has ever handled be reviewed by this committee, unless he has something to hide,” Dean said.
John Dean’s prepared testimony is posted below: