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Former White House Counsel To President Nixon Weighs In On Cohen's Plea Deal


And now to our current president. This week, President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen entered a surprise guilty plea in federal court for lying to Congress. Cohen, who was once an intimate of the president, is now cooperating with special prosecutor Robert Mueller and has implicated President Trump in questionable activities. There was once another man in a similar position. John Dean was President Richard Nixon's White House counsel. And he also turned against him and cooperated with investigators. John Dean joins us now. Thank you so much.

JOHN DEAN: Pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Dean, your name is invoked a lot these days, but this past week when Mr. Cohen entered his plea, that particular buzz got very loud. What does it feel like to you when you hear it, when you see the parallels between you and Mr. Cohen?

DEAN: Well, there's some parallels. I actually tried to turn off Nixon's cover-up internally and get everybody to step forward. He sort of is confronted with a situation where the cover-up appeared after the president has left the organization, but yet he still had a relationship with him. But what I think Michael Cohen appears to be doing is volunteering on his own. He went in to the prosecutor's office without prompting, just under his own decision. Yes, he was under investigation by the FBI, but he just decided there's only one way to deal with that, and it's honestly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president - this president has name-checked you in his Twitter feed. He's called you a, quote, "rat." He's also called Michael Cohen, quote, "weak." It is hard to be a whistleblower in our culture.

DEAN: It is. No question. And you know what's interesting, also? When you have somebody like a president who has his followers, they really never give up on him. I think they're - Nixon left office with something like 29 percent, and those 29 percent stayed with him. There are probably 29 percent today. And so it doesn't automatically mean that people think what you're saying is correct or true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's your reaction to the president calling - this president calling you out?

DEAN: I'm delighted to be on Trump's enemies' list (laughter). I hold him in minimal high esteem, if I can put it diplomatically.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the most significant development this past week that you've seen?

DEAN: I think Michael's coming forward. We've had a busy week.


DEAN: His decision was apparently arranged rather quickly. He has spent something like 70 hours either in front of the grand jury or with the special counsel. I'm not sure if it's been - I've heard it reported both ways. That's a lot of time, a lot of time. And his case was originally drawn to the attention of the special counsel, who passed it up to the Southern District of New York, where he worked out his tax and campaign violation problems. And it was only after all these hours of conversation with the special counsel that he decides this is a very valuable witness to me. So that changed the status. And I think it did not do for the president what he would like to have, which is this thing go away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if it's not going away, which it clearly isn't, as someone who's been involved in something like this before, do you feel like this is ratcheting up, that we're reaching an endgame?

DEAN: Not yet. I think, you know, it's hard to know. Mueller has run a very tight ship, which is the way it should be. But I don't think we're at the end yet. And there will be trials after these people - unless everybody pleads guilty, which is not likely. And more information will come out. There will also be - because the House is now controlled by the Democrats, there's going to be a lot of congressional interest in what's going on. So it isn't over.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think Mr. Cohen should take a pardon if indeed it is offered by the president of the United States? And do you think he's interested in that?

DEAN: He doesn't seem to be interested in a pardon. He was originally offered one, apparently hinted that there could be one. But, you know, I don't think he's in the position now where it's likely Trump is going to give him a pardon. And for that reason, he shouldn't want one. If he's doing the right thing, he shouldn't earn one on that. It would be to keep him quiet rather than to testify that he would have gotten a pardon or to mislead and lie and what have you, which doesn't really solve the problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you looking for in the coming days?

DEAN: Well, it's interesting. I never believed in my lifetime we'd go through this again. But here we are. I don't think that Donald Trump really has even a good newspaper knowledge of Watergate. In fact, he doesn't really even understand the presidency, which is kind of threatening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean. Thank you so very much.

DEAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.