Watergate figure John Dean described the Trump DOJ’s surveillance of House Democrats as ‘Nixon on stilts and steroids’

john dean
John Dean is seen testifying before the House Judiciary Committee hearing about Lessons from the Mueller Report on June 10, 2019.

  • John Dean described the Trump DOJ’s surveillance of Democrats as “Nixon on stilts and steroids.”
  • Dean criticized Bill Barr, alleging that the former attorney general was committed to serving Trump.
  • Rep. Adam Schiff of California has called for “a full accounting of the Trump DOJ’s abuse of power.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

John Dean, the former White House counsel under the late President Richard Nixon, on Friday described the Justice Department seizing the smartphone data of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as “Nixon on stilts and steroids.”

The comments came after The New York Times reported that former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and William Barr subpoenaed Apple to gain access to the records of members of the committee, after they were informed of leaks in the Trump administration.

During an appearance on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront, Dean, who helped bring down Nixon over the Watergate scandal, said the actions of former President Donald Trump’s DOJ went further than that of his former boss.

“Nixon didn’t have that kind of Department of Justice,” he said.

Dean then remarked on how the Nixon administration handled the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers, the classified documents that detailed the history of the US military and political involvement in Vietnam.

“I got a call from the Oval Office the day after he learned that, and could the Department of Justice bring a criminal action for this? Called over, found out the short answer was they could, but they won’t,” Dean said. “So Nixon couldn’t use the department as he wanted to.”

Burnett asked Dean if the actions of Trump’s DOJ went “beyond what Nixon did.”

“It is beyond Nixon, yes,” Dean said. “It’s Nixon on stilts and steroids.”

Read more: The Justice Department is scrutinizing Arizona’s pro-Trump vote audit as threats of violence and political fallout loom

Dean then laced into Barr, alleging that the former attorney general was long committed to serving Trump.

“The memo he wrote to get the job says ‘I’m ready to execute your presidency like a unitary executive presidency should be,’ which means no bars hold,” he told Burnett. “And he did that. It’s quite clear he didn’t have to be told on many things.”

He added: “We now know there are countless examples of norms he was willing to break.”

The DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, said in a statement Friday that his office would investigate the incident, after receiving queries from Democratic lawmakers in Congress.

“The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations,” the statement read. “If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review.”

Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California, a longtime political adversary of Trump who was one of the subpoena targets, on Friday called for a thorough review of the matter.

“We need a full accounting of the Trump DOJ’s abuse of power targeting Congress and the press,” he tweeted. “An IG investigation is just the start. The full range of the misconduct must be examined, including Barr’s efforts to protect those who lied to cover up, and go after Trump’s enemies.”

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