Nixon White House Counsel John Dean and intelligence expert Malcolm Nance tell a packed town hall the Russia scandal isn’t going to fade away

By Gary Walker

Rep. Karen Bass (left) used her congressional town hall to give experts Malcom Nance (center) and John Dean a platform to catch her constituents up on the investigation into Russian interference with the presidential election

John Dean knows a thing or two about presidential scandals. As White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon, he became embroiled in the Watergate cover-up and ultimately testified against Nixon before the U.S. Senate.

At a congressional town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Karen Bass (D- Los Angeles) on April 19, Dean told nearly 1,000 people crammed into the Marina Del Rey Middle School Auditorium and two overflow rooms that it’s too early to predict whether history will repeat itself — this time concerning President Donald Trump’s campaign team and allegations they colluded with Russian intelligence agents to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Though comparing “Trumpgate” to Watergate may be premature, Dean said there are already some similarities.

“It pains me to see Trump desecrating the presidency. I worked for a president who got himself into a real deep mess. The echoes from that period of 900 days of Watergate and now are eerily similar,” Dean said in response to a question from KCRW’s Benjamin Gottlieb, who moderated the event.

Pressed by Gottlieb about a potential “smoking gun” in the Trump probe, Dean said it all comes down to the level of truthfulness coming out of Trump’s inner circle.

“Someone will have to get caught lying repeatedly. That’s what really doomed Nixon’s presidency. It wasn’t the quality of the evidence. It was the cover-up,” Dean explained. “Nixon denied any knowledge of the cover-up until I told him [about it]. That was a preposterous lie.”

And when it comes to the Trump camp, “We’ve got a lot of months, a lot of miles and a lot of lies to go. It’s very early,” Dean said.

Malcom Nance, a decorated former Navy and U.S intelligence officer who’s emerged as a frequent television commentator, shared the town hall stage with Dean. He suggested that Trumpgate has even higher stakes than Watergate, considering the implications of international espionage.

“What is happening right now with the Trump administration is a counterintelligence investigation. They are being investigated by the nation’s spy hunters. This not a joke,” Nance said. “No matter how you slice it, unless they determine there’s nothing here, this is going to be the single most serious spy investigation since [Revolutionary War traitor] Benedict Arnold.”

Both Nance and Dean said the U.S. Senate, not the House of Representatives, is the more credible body to investigate alleged ties between Trump aides and Russian spies.

“And at that point,” said Nance, “you’ll have to decide whether America is a liar as a nation, or what we allow our people to investigate and present is actually the truth.”

Nance posited that if Trump or any of his aides are found to have colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, it may not amount to treason because the nation is not under an official declaration of war. But Dean, the former lawyer, noted that a finding of treason does not require the country to be at war.

With many in Congress using the mid-April recesses to host constituent town halls, Bass said she chose to focus hers on bringing more substance to a conversation largely playing out in media soundbites.

“People in the community are hungry for more information. Both of these gentlemen are on TV all the time but only for five minutes at a time,” said Bass, whose district includes Mar Vista, Del Rey and Culver City. “I know that people want to engage and have conversations, so that’s the whole point.”

Nance said he is deeply troubled by how the political persuasions of voters seem to determine whether they’ll even consider discussing possible foreign interference in a U.S. election.

“As an intelligence professional, you’d believe every word I say about terrorism and how to catch ISIS or kill a terrorist. But if we come as a body and say that Russia did this in order to choose an electoral outcome, 50% of the country flat-out won’t believe a word that we say,” he said.

The largely left-leaning crowd at Marina Del Rey Middle School cheered frequently when speakers referred to the possibility that members of the Trump administration broke the law, and many booed emphatically whenever the president was mentioned by name.

Arthur Christopher Schaper was part of a small group of Trump supporters who argued with members of the audience at several points during the town hall.

“The fact that the two keynote speakers declared that there was nothing good about the Trump administration shows how biased, partisan and unserious they really are,” Schaper said of the event.

Dean argued that the only way the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress would move away from Trump would be for self-preservation.

“Losing elections will change how Republicans look at congressional investigations. It was the Senate Watergate Committee [of four Democrats and three Republicans] that did the really deep digging,” Dean recalled. “If that happens, we’re going to see more Republicans who will want to get to the bottom of this.”