PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was one of the biggest news stories of the 20th century, leading directly to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the start of the Senate Watergate hearings.
If you’re over 40, chances are good your family TV was tuned into these hearings on whether President Nixon was involved in the Watergate burglaries and its cover-up.
The key whistleblower of that time was White House counsel John Dean, who recently sat down for an exclusive interview with KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
“I’m somebody who never sought a high profile ever in life, and something like 80 million Americans, 85 percent of the television audience, watched that,” Dean recalled of the time.
Dean, whose parents met here and whose son and grandchildren live here, was in town at an Allegheny County Bar Association seminar and reflected on the 40th anniversary of hearings that led to Nixon’s resignation.
“Today Watergate encompasses not just a bungled burglary and cover-up, but covers really all of Nixon’s abuses of power,” he observed.
It recalls Nixon’s famous line to TV interviewer David Frost: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
Nixon’s absurd belief that he was above the law justified illegal wiretapping and his cover-up of the Watergate burglary of Democratic headquarters.
“His desire for revenge against his enemies increases with his success,” noted Dean. “As he becomes clearer that he’s going to win reelection, he is going to have back at the people who along the way have caused him problems.”
What Dean 40 years ago called a cancer on the presidency brought Nixon down, but Dean and his team are working on another book listening to all the Nixon tapes to, says Dean, “literally follow the thread of what Nixon knew and when he knew it. I always assumed when I started the book I’m working on that somebody would have done that. Nobody did it.”
He won’t scoop himself, but says his book – timed for the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation next year – will reveal even more of Nixon.