Watergate's John Dean balks at 'WattersonGate' comparison


by Joe Arnold


Posted on April 17, 2013 at 7:38 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 18 at 12:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- "Mitch McConnell doesn't seem to have a clue what happened during Watergate."

Key Watergate figure John Dean, convicted of obstruction of justice in the Nixon White House scandal, is refuting the Kentucky Senator's reference of Watergate in the clandestine recording of a McConnell campaign strategy meeting.

"They were bugging our headquarters – quite a Nixonian move,” McConnell said after the recording was released on the left wing Mother Jones website.  ”This is what you get from the political left in America."

"I think falsely charging somebody with a Watergate type activity is somewhat Nixonian," Dean said, explaining that Nixon had nothing to do with the bugging operation of the Democratic National Committee, only the cover-up.  

In a column published on the legal issues website Justia.com and a subsequent interview with WHAS11 News, Dean challenged the comparison and suggests the "WattersonGate" recording in Louisville may not have violated federal law.

"What you had was a carefully executed illegal activity by some bungling burglars," Dean said of Watergate.  "The only similarity may be bad judgment in recording people.  That's the only thing that's even close."

Dean, Nixon's ultimately fired White House counsel, said he watched WHAS11's story that showed how the recording may have been carried out.

According to a scenario alleged by Jacob Conway, a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Party Executive Committee, two members of Progress Kentucky, Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, told him they were in the hallway outside McConnell's campaign strategy meeting and used a phone or flipcam placed near the vent or bottom of an office door to record the private discussion of opposition research conducted on potential McConnell challengers.

"There's just no possibility it's an illegal act," Dean told WHAS11.  "If that conversation drifted into the hallway and they used some sort of common recording device like a camera or a telephone or something like that to record it in the hall, there are lots of cases that say there is no expectation of privacy in that kind of situation."

"And the responsibility would have been on McConnell and his people to assure that conversation wasn't drifting into the hall," Dean continued.  "Not on these guys and the fact that it did drift into the hall."

Dean said the recording may potentially be determined to have violated Kentucky law which bars electronic eavesdropping unless at least one person who is part of the conversation is aware it is being recorded.  Yet Dean criticized the state law as being "vague."

"It was not wise to record the meeting but also in the same breath I must say it doesn't appear to be illegal either," Dean said.

"I have a lot of trouble understanding what the FBI is even doing in this investigation because it sounds first of all very much like a local thing," Dean told WHAS11.  "I'm not so naive as to not know why they're there.  They're there because McConnell wants them there and they're doing his bidding."

On Wednesday night, an FBI spokeswoman denied Dean's allegation.

Dean suggested that all parties involved in the FBI investigation should tread carefully.

"Obstruction of justice can occur on two sides," Dean explained.  "You can obstruct justice by pushing too hard as well as by trying to defeat the investigators.  Everybody should play it intelligently and not get themselves into an obstruction of justice situation."

Dean said one part of "WattersonGate" does remind him of Richard Nixon, Mitch McConnell's campaign strategy as revealed by the recording.

"Richard Nixon was a politician who spared nothing to attack his enemies," Dean said.  "Listening to that conversation or reading the transcript of it, is a very Nixonian style."