Geoff Shepard: Pelosi's Watergate-era impeachment counsel – disbarred but happy to offer advice

If you were wondering why Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment strategy feels like political malpractice, we now can understand why: she’s heeding advice from Watergate-era convicted criminal John Dean.

In a fawning cover story, a Pelosi aide revealed to Time magazine that the speaker credits former the Nixon White House counsel with the idea of delaying transmission of the impeachment articles to the Senate. Typically, attorney advice is offered behind closed doors, but Pelosi jumped on this after she heard Dean discussing the idea during an appearance on CNN.

Dean’s a strange choice. His life has been built on lies and misinformation, yet he’s always a welcome guest to mainstream media outlets in need of someone to shout “Worse than Watergate” about any Republican scandal. It’s no surprise that Pelosi or any Democrat listens to Dean because he is revered by the liberal media. But to appreciate how Pelosi got herself into this tactical predicament, you should understand Dean’s prior criminal endeavors.

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Dean is a convicted felon, who has described his own role as “chief desk officer” for the Watergate cover-up. While his media friends never mention it, Dean isn’t allowed to give actual legal advice, as he has been disbarred from the practice of law for roughly 45 years.

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The New York Times wrote at the time of his disbarment that Dean was charged by the Virginia Bar Association with having “been guilty of unprofessional conduct by with-holding evidence, inducing a witness to commit perjury, authorizing payment of hush money to the Watergate burglars and diverting money to his own use.” No doubt all great ideas, but not in the eyes of the Virginia Court: "The three Circuit Court judges found Mr. Dean guilty of unethical, unprofessional and unwarranted conduct as an attorney-at-law violating the code of professional ethics.”

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Dean has had lots of other great ideas too, like secretly preparing a competing broadcast license application, which got him fired for “unethical conduct” from Welch & Morgan. Like recruiting Gordon Liddy to prepare a campaign intelligence plan, resulting in a proposal for mugging, bugging, kidnapping and prostitution. Like stopping FBI interviews of two Watergate witnesses by getting the CIA to tell the FBI that they were part of an undercover operation.

The White House tape recording of Nixon’s agreement with this proposal, when released to the public, was the “smoking gun” that led to his resignation four days later. To further compound the situation, Dean was then less than fully truthful about his role in triggering that event, when testifying against his former colleagues at the cover-up trial.

Taking advice from John Dean on ethical governance is like inviting a cannibal into your kitchen to help cook dinner: You’re likely to get eaten alive, which is what happened to Pelosi as her caucus demanded she stop playing games and send the articles to the Senate.

To put it simply: Dean was a crook – and, yet, he never spent a single night in jail for his many Watergate crimes. While sentenced to prison for one to four years, he was secretly placed in a witness protection program for the duration of the cover-up trial and then set completely free a week after those convictions were obtained.

The reason why the Democrats love having Dean around is that they’ve been unable to replicate a Dean-style antagonist in the Ukraine process. They even used Dean as their lead witness during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry hearings on President Trump. That effort led to a purely partisan impeachment – one that has only caused Pelosi more political headaches ever since.

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Taking advice from John Dean on ethical governance is like inviting a cannibal into your kitchen to help cook dinner: You’re likely to get eaten alive, which is what happened to Pelosi as her caucus demanded she stop playing games and send the articles to the Senate. If the Democrats had asked Dean for legal advice, he would have had to politely decline, because he has been disbarred. Thankfully, he's able to dish political strategy as a TV pundit.

As a former colleague and longtime critic of Mr. Dean, I hope the Democrat Senate managers continue to listen to him for strategic advice on TV. Since they are not practicing lawyers either, perhaps he can give them a few more pointers when they watch the recaps of their own performance. But in an ironic twist of fate, nearly 50 years after crippling the Nixon presidency, Dean’s advice now may ensure that the ending of this saga isn’t a Watergate repeat

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