If he were back as White House counsel, here's what John Dean would tell President Trump

In one of the indelible moments of the Watergate scandal, White House Counsel John Dean can be heard on a secretly recorded Oval Office tape warning Richard Nixon of a cancer on his presidency: the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters by operatives tied to his 1972 reelection bid.

Dean initially helped the White House cover up its connection to the break-in — the March 1973 conversation included a discussion of hush money — but eventually he implicated Nixon and others.

Now a political independent, and a sort of expert witness on Washington scandals, Dean has emerged as one of President Trump’s harshest critics, suggesting he obstructed justice by seeking to impede the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In an interview Tuesday, the Beverly Hills resident offered his perspective on the smoke surrounding the Trump administration and comparisons between Nixon and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Specifically, he was asked: If he were back in his old job, in a kind of do-over, what unvarnished advice would he give Trump behind closed doors?

Dean said he would urge Trump to act quickly to fully cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel charged with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and the collusion, if any, with Trump’s campaign.

“If you don’t act decisively today,” Dean said he would tell the president, “you are merely going to watch your presidency unravel slowly, unpleasantly and with increasing disgrace.”

The rest of his response in his Times interview, edited for clarity and brevity:

“Mr. President, your presidency is in a world of trouble, for you operate in the shadow of treason. I don’t know if you colluded with the Russians to help win the presidency, but if you did, the sooner you explain what you and your aides did the better. You are not going to beat the rap if you have somehow conspired with a foreign country to defeat Hillary Clinton. With time, the answers will be revealed.

“If you have engaged in treason to obtain your office, the sooner you leave it the better for you and for the country. If you come forward now you might make a deal with special counsel Mueller.

“If you did not personally do this, but you learned that people on your staff did, you are aiding and abetting them, or you are conspiring with them, and this is just as bad as having done it yourself. But you might get some credit for ending the crime now, explaining what happened and how it happened and why it happened — but you had better not wait another day.

“If neither you or your staff had anything whatsoever to do with the Russian hacking of the election, and if you have had no business or other dealings with the Russians that have compromised you, then you need to go to special counsel Mueller and tell him you want to appear before a grand jury and answer all their questions about this matter at the earliest possible time.

“You want your staff to appear before the grand jury at the earliest possible time. And you want to provide any and all documents, including your tax returns for however many years the grand jury wishes, and provide this information at the earliest possible time.

“And you should ask Mr. Mueller — after you have assisted him and corroborated all you and your staff have told him — to report to the Congress and the American people at the earliest possible time.”

mark.barabak@latimes.com

@markzbarabak on Twitter

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UPDATES:

4:15 p.m.: The story was updated with additional background on Dean and his views on President Trump.

The story was originally published at 9:35 a.m.

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