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Watergate's John Dean on the CIA leak probe

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John Dean

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- John Dean, who was counsel to President Richard Nixon and served four months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, has written several books recounting his days in the Nixon White House.

His latest book is "Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush."

He joined CNN anchor Lou Dobbs from Los Angeles Tuesday to discuss the investigation surrounding the possible involvement of Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, in the leak that revealed the identity of a CIA operative.

DOBBS: Good to have you here. As we look at an investigation that, now has lasted longer than that into Watergate, what do you make of what's going on?

DEAN: Well, I've certainly had some flashbacks to memories of days past, when I saw that press conference yesterday and again today. I was all but waiting for [White House press secretary] Scott McClellan to make it an inoperative situation like Mr. Ziegler did.

DOBBS: Referring to Ron Ziegler, the press secretary for President Nixon and his famous response about [previous] statements being, instead of false, inoperative, I believe was the way he put it.

DEAN: That's what he said.

DOBBS: The Democrats have already taken hold here. They're on the attack. The White House is hunkered down, if not bunkered down. What is, to you, the rational response here on the part of the White House?

DEAN: Well, they're obviously doing the classical defense of the stonewall and you know, keep it up, keep the front up and hope that some intervening news story is going to come along and take attention away from this, which can always happen.

They've been very fortunate in the past, of that indeed happening: When people got too close to issues they didn't want them to get close to, that some intervening story has relieved them. And that's what I think their game plan is.

DOBBS: In a perhaps bizarre piece, it appears that Time magazine leaked some material to Newsweek magazine. I can't say that for certain, but it appears that way. The fact is: It's unclear whether what Karl Rove may or may not have done here is even illegal.

DEAN: That's right. It isn't clear.

DOBBS: What's your sense of that?

DEAN: We can't tell on the facts we have alone whether we have a law that's been violated or which laws have been violated. The attention is focused on the CIA Identities Protection Act and that hasn't really been my concern.

I think probably the lawyers involved in this case are looking at the other potential concerns. You take the prima facie facts we have and this could very well be a couple statutes that are involved with Mr. Rove.

He could be, well, converting government information to his own political uses and putting it out, and that is a violation of the law. It could be the statute that got a lot of those of us involved in Watergate, which is if he is conspiring with others to do what he's not being paid as a government employee to do, which it would be in this instance, to leak information for political purposes. That in turn, could be a violation as well.

DOBBS: Effectively, fraud and conspiracy.

DEAN: Yes.

DOBBS: The idea here, though, that we don't even know whether a crime has been committed. We don't know what in the world takes two years to investigate about what is pretty much a straightforward leak. And we have a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, who is not being exactly treated like [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein [of The Washington Post] here for her role. In point of fact, she is the only -- at this point -- clear victim in this entire proceeding. Your thoughts?

DEAN: No question. It's a travesty that she's in jail at this point and she's protecting some source, who is not in jail or who is not even fessing up to relieve her of that responsibility.

But you know, there are a lot of potentials here that -- how this may unwind, and the reason I think the fact that there's more to happen, is that when I read the opinion of Judge Hogan in the contempt proceeding, and I read the court of appeals decision of Judge Tatel.

DOBBS: [U.S. District] Judge [James] Hogan, the judge who sentenced Judith Miller for contempt.

DEAN: Correct. And Judge [David] Tatel was on the appellate court that reviewed that decision before it went to the Supreme Court, and both of them have looked at the sealed record. And in that record, which they redacted in their opinion, but in their look at it they said this case is not where it started; it has made a dramatic turn, and this information that is now being requested by this special counsel, [Patrick] Fitzgerald, is needed.

And therefore, they could see no basis to get around the problem of holding her in contempt or [Time reporter Matthew] Cooper, if he wasn't willing to testify.

So, something's happened in this case, Lou, that we don't know and that's why I think it may be -- well, it may be close to being over. ... [But] the fat lady hasn't gotten near the stage yet.

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