John Dean, former presidential counsel to President Richard Nixon, expressed his outlook on the Watergate scandal Friday as part of the University of Wisconsin Law School’s 2013 Kastenmeier Lecture.
After serving as Nixon’s White House lawyer from July 1970 until April 1973, which included involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal, Dean worked as a private investment banker and is now a political author and speaker.
His lecture explored why numerous lawyers participated in illegal activities during Watergate and how this has affected political society today.
Dean focused on the long lasting effects of Watergate, more specifically, the influence on political ethics. He said the scandal resulted in many reforms within the legal profession, such as making the teaching of ethics mandatory in law schools and administering special ethics bar examinations.
He explained the aftermath of Watergate that still affects politics today is the relationship between the press and the president.
“The whole relationship between the press and presidency changed where presidents had the burden almost of proving that they weren’t doing anything wrong,” Dean said.
Dean also stressed the impact of incompetence as a reason why so many lawyers crossed the line of morality during Watergate.
“One of the things which is somewhat striking because of the level at which it happens, is arrogance toward the law, in other words, just not even caring about the law and thinking themselves above the law,” Dean said.
Dean mentioned that unwavering loyalty to Nixon was another reason people were involved in Watergate, meaning they knew it would benefit them to be on his side.
He concluded the lecture by asking the audience “Why do people take risks?” He said ultimately, people take risks because people dislike losing much more than they like winning.
Finally, Dean argued the Watergate scandal reflects this idea because individuals were more apt to cover up their involvement than risk the possible consequences of withdrawing from scandal. In all, he said it shows people are psychologically built for cover-ups. Ultimately, this is one of the reasons those involved in Watergate had a difficult time leaving the scandal.