John Dean says Nixon ‘would have survived’ Watergate under immunity ruling

John Dean, former White House counsel for the Nixon administration, said he believes former President Nixon “would have survived” the Watergate scandal if the Supreme Court’s immunity ruling issued Monday, which largely shields former presidents from criminal prosecution for actions in office, existed at the time.

Asked what would’ve happened with Nixon if the immunity ruling was in place during the fallout from Watergate, Dean pointed to Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who split from the other conservative justices on a portion of the majority opinion regarding the use of president’s official acts as evidence in criminal prosecution against a former president.

“Well, there’s actually two rulings in this decision. There’s a 6-3 for presumptive immunity, but there’s also a 5-4 on you can’t even have the evidence of official conduct come to play,” Dean said Monday. “This is very…this to me, appears to certainly influence the existing law on presidential conduct [and] what’s available…evidentiary speaking. Amy Coney Barrett said she didn’t think that it should be so restricted as the decision of the court itself was, so I think that Nixon would have survived. I think he would have walked under this ruling.”

The Supreme Court handed down the 6-3 decision on Monday, ruling along ideological lines presidents have absolute immunity for actions that fall within the core responsibilities of their office and are “at least presumptively immune” for all other official acts.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, ruled a former president’s official acts are protected against being introduced as evidence in a criminal case against a former president.

Barrett, in a concurring opinion, said she disagreed with this portion of ruling, writing, “I disagree with that holding; on this score, I agree with the dissent… The Constitution does not require blinding juries to the circumstances surrounding conduct for which Presidents can be held liable.”

Nixon was mired in the Watergate controversy in 1972 that stemmed from a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee, which were located in the Watergate building. The break-in was traced to officials working to reelect Nixon, some of whom later resigned and were convicted of offenses related to the cover-up.

Nixon denied involvement, but a Supreme Court ruling forced him to hand over tape recordings which showed he attempted to avoid the investigation. He resigned in 1973 to avoid an inevitable impeachment by Congress.

He was later pardoned by former President Ford for any crimes he may have committed in office.

Dean said he is looking at the known evidence at the time of the scandal, but looking at the bills of impeachment, Nixon is “not responsible” and has “no criminal liability.”

“And that was considered to be one of the elements of a high crime and misdemeanor if a president had committed a crime. Well there are no more crimes for presidents in official conduct,” he said.

The Supreme Court’s immunity ruling Monday handed former President Trump a win as he stares down a federal criminal election subversion case, brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

The decision is likely to delay the trial, first sending the case back to a lower court to determine whether his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 merit protection from criminal prosecution for decisions made while in the White House.

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