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John Dean to speak on Watergate, lawyers and ethics

September 30, 2013

John Dean, best known as former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon and a key witness in the Senate Watergate hearings, will deliver the University of Wisconsin Law School’s 2013 Kastenmeier Lecture at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4 at Gordon Dining and Event Center, Second Floor, 770 W. Dayton St.

Photo: John Dean in 1972

John Dean in his White House office in 1972.

The free talk, “Crossing the Line: Watergate, the Criminal Law and Ethics,” will draw on Dean’s personal, historic experience, examining issues of professional ethics for lawyers.

Dean was not involved with the break-in, but was intimately involved with the criminal effort to cover it up. When Dean told Nixon in 1973, behind closed doors, that Watergate was a “cancer on the presidency,” he intended to have the president end the cover-up. But when Nixon told Dean the president knew where to get a million dollars cash, Dean emerged from the meeting recharged to continue it. That taped conversation was key to unraveling the Nixon presidency.

University of Wisconsin Law Professor Frank Tuerkheimer served as associate special prosecutor with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and now considers Dean a colleague and friend. “The title ‘Crossing the line’ comes from a conversation we had while planning this talk,” Tuerkheimer says. “We disagree about when John crossed the line into criminality, but we both agree that he did. And there’s nobody with better perspective and insight than John Dean to talk about just how easy it is for a lawyer to let down his guard and slip into unethical or illegal activity.”

Dean recounted his days in the Nixon White House and the Watergate scandal in two books, “Blind Ambition” and “Lost Honor.” Dean is currently working on his 12th book, which returns to Watergate and is based on new material now available. He lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., with his wife Maureen.

The Kastenmeier Lecture is named for Robert Kastenmeier, a former Wisconsin congressman and UW law alumnus. Register at

—Jonathan Zarov