John Dean joins drive to censure Bush

Former White House counsel John Dean, who helped push President Richard Nixon from office during the Watergate scandal three decades ago, heads to Capitol Hill on Friday to back an uphill attempt to censure President George W. Bush.

Dean, author of a book about Bush titled "Worse than Watergate," was to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a resolution to rebuke Bush for a domestic spying program introduced secretly after the September 11 attacks.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, introduced the resolution earlier this month.

He argues that the program, which allows eavesdropping on international telephone calls and e-mails involving Americans when one party is suspected of links with terrorism, violates the law because it is conducted without court warrants.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, contends there are no grounds for censure, but has agreed to hold the hearing to debate the matter.

"I think that there’s absolutely no merit in it, and that the hearing will expose it because of the president’s broad (constitutional) authority," Specter said.

Feingold’s censure resolution has rallied the support of a number of liberal groups, but it has also galvanized conservatives in support of the embattled war-time president.

Republicans have dismissed the resolution as a political stunt, while many Democrats have distanced themselves from it as they jockey for position for the November congressional elections.

So far, just two of Feingold’s 43 fellow Senate Democrats, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, have co-sponsored his resolution.

Nixon became the first president to resign from office in August 1974 after a congressional impeachment investigation aided by Dean, who had earlier been his White House counsel.

The Judiciary Committee will decide whether to send the censure resolution against Bush to the Republican-led Senate where it seems to have virtually no chance of being approved.

The Senate has censured a president, which amounts to a formal rebuke, only once before and that was Andrew Jackson in 1834 in a banking dispute.

Dean was one of five witnesses called to testify before the Judiciary Committee — two by Democrats, three by Republicans.

© 2006 Reuters