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Watergate Remembered, After a Fashion

John Dean, White House counsel to President Richard Nixon and the author of
John Dean, White House counsel to President Richard Nixon and the author of "Worse Than Watergate," talked about a subject he knows well during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Saturday, April 1, 2006

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was only 16 years old when burglars broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate, but yesterday he got to play Sam Ervin questioning Nixon counsel John Dean in a Senate hearing room.

"Did you ever believe there was a legal basis for the president of the United States to break into the Democratic national headquarters?" Graham demanded of Dean.

"Nixon didn't authorize the break-in," pointed out Dean, who had come to testify about why President Bush should be censured for his wiretapping program.

"Oh, he didn't?" Lindsey continued. "Okay, so did you authorize it?"

"No, I did not," Dean replied.

"Did you know about it?"

"No, I did not."

After more ineffectual questioning, the old scofflaw taunted Graham: "You're showing you don't know that subject very well."

Spectators laughed, and soon the senator was sputtering mad. "That's why you went to jail!" Graham finally blurted out.

Yesterday's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was ostensibly about a resolution by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) to censure Bush over warrantless wiretapping. But Feingold's own Democratic colleagues weren't terribly enthusiastic -- Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) were all no-shows -- and the grass-roots groundswell failed to materialize. Just 47 of the 162 public seats in the room were occupied when the hearing began; 25 were occupied when it ended three hours later.

Instead, Feingold's invitation to Dean -- who spent four months in prison for his role in the Watergate conspiracy -- turned the session into a badly staged Watergate reenactment. Thirty-three years ago, Dean's cooperation with Ervin's panel helped to bring down Richard Nixon. Yesterday, a white-haired Dean tried to do something similar to Bush.

Feingold started off with a bit of rehabilitation of Dean, who paid the Watergate burglars hush money. Feingold called him a "patriot" who put "rule of law above the interests of the president."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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