John Dean: Cheney is guilty of 'murder' if Hersh claims are true

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s bombshell earlier this week that Vice President Dick Cheney controlled an “executive assassination ring” continues to reverberate throughout Washington, with Nixon aide John Dean going so far as to accuse the former VP of murder if the charges are true.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann visited the issue on his show Countdown Thursday night where he discussed the legal implications of Hersh's allegations with Dean, who was White House legal counsel under President Richard Nixon.

“It’s potentially a war crime,” Dean said of the reported assassination ring. “It’s potentially just outright murder and it’s clearly in violation of the Ford Executive Order.”

Hersh told the students at the University of Minnesota on Tuesday that the assassination squad was “a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. In the Bush-Cheney Days, they reported directly to the Cheney, Cheney office. They do not report to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. Gates, the secretary of defense. They report directly to him. Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring, essentially.”

“If this is true you have to prosecute this. There is no way around this,” said Olbermann, noting the 1976 executive order of President Gerald Ford which explicitly outlawed the engagement of political employees in political assassination. Cheney was Ford’s chief of staff at the time the order was issued.

“By the time Cheney was back in the West Wing it appears that Cheney had forgotten his own boss’s executive order, or worse, he had decided to ignore it,” Olbermann said.

Dean told Olbermann that “the President’s the only one you can argue who may have the authority to engage in assassinations.

Newsweek editor Howard Fineman shared with Olbermann his own investigation into the veracity of Hersh's claims. Fineman said his talks Thursday with sources in the intelligence community had revealed that while they are skeptical of the existence of any assassination ring, they had too much respect in Hersh's reporting to dismiss the allegations outright and that they warranted further study.

However, not everyone is buying the claims made by Hersh. The Weekly Standard's Bill Roggio writes, "Hersh has made a living of making fantastic claims that don't quite live up to the hype. Chalk this one up as another Hersh fantasy."

Claims by the CIA that the Hersh allegations were “utter nonsense,” are not surprising, said Fineman.

“If there is in fact such a thing... and the CIA was kept in the dark about it, the last thing they would want to do right now is to admit it,” Fineman said.

Fineman said he has been told by aides to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has proposed forming an independent ‘Truth Commission’ to investigate abuses of the Bush administration, that not many members of the Senate have signed on to the proposal as of yet.

However, the new allegations by Hersh may be shocking enough to push more senators over to Leahy’s side, Fineman said.

“This could be that thing, depending on how much it pans out,” Fineman said. “One more really serious allegation…I think you’re going to see a lot of senators wanting to join Sen. Leahy’s side on this.”

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Mar. 12, 2009.(3.13.2009, David Edwards and Rachel Oswald)

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