- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Online exclusive: updated 2:42 p.m.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy today became the highest-ranking Democrat to call for censuring President Bush during hearings on the White House’s warrantless eavesdropping program, as Republicans accused Democrats of imperiling national security for sound bites.

Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said the president “secretly and systematically” violated laws that bar the nation’s intelligence agencies from spying on Americans without court approval.

“I have no doubt that such a conclusion will be history’s verdict,” said Mr. Leahy at the hearing in which convicted Watergate felon John W. Dean testified on behalf of Democrats.

The former aide to President Nixon said that he thinks impeachment in the case of Mr. Bush’s terrorist surveillance program is “premature” but that censure would be “appropriate.” He called it more serious than Watergate.

Mr. Dean’s mere presence on the panel was enough to draw the ire of Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

“One of the witnesses that’s going to testify — that’s selling a book — is a convicted felon,” Mr. Cornyn said.

“It strikes me as odd that the Judiciary Committee is giving some audience — an opportunity — to somebody under those circumstances as part of their marketing efforts.”

Censure is an official rebuke that Congress can levy against one of its own members or the president. The only time a president has been censured was in 1834 after President Andrew Jackson refused to surrender documents requested by Congress.

The White House says that Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency’s top secret program to prevent terrorist strikes on America and that as a wartime president he has the power to avoid court approval.

The administration also says the program was mainly used to intercept calls from terror-linked suspects to people in the U.S.

Before today, only two other Democrats in the Senate have supported the censure resolution, which was authored by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

The resolution accuses Mr. Bush of violating the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which mandates court approval for domestic spying.

At today’s hearing, Mr. Dean began his testimony by saying that “it’s important that the committee sometimes hear from the dark side, that those of us from that perspective can add some insights that might not otherwise be available to a body like this.”

By this time, Mr. Cornyn had left the hearing, leading Mr. Feingold to accuse him of “hit and run.”

But Mr. Cornyn’s charges weren’t entirely without merit.

Before the hearings began, Mr. Dean pulled aside two photographers furiously snapping pictures of him. He told them he needs a picture of himself for his forthcoming book’s dust jacket.

After the hearing, Mr. Dean told reporters that his book, titled “Conservatives Without a Conscience: Bush, Cheney, and the Radical Republicans Who Are Destroying the Nation’s Democratic Values,” will include a reference to Mr. Cornyn, but he declined to elaborate.

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