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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)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the closest thing the committee has to a White House proxy, had a different view. He called Dean "a convicted felon" who is trying to sell a book.

The Texan's ferocity appeared to stun senators of both parties. "Let it all hang out," said Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman. Cornyn left the session, never to return.

Feingold, calling Dean "courageous," protested that Cornyn "basically did a hit-and-run on our witness."

Dean's presence had the result Feingold sought: linking Bush's actions to Nixonian abuses. Before long, everybody was partying like it was 1973.

"This is not Watergate," pro-Bush witness Lee Casey felt compelled to argue.

Dean, acknowledging he came "from the dark side," countered that he had "more experience firsthand than anybody might want in what can go wrong and how a president can get on the other side of the law."

Like Nixon, Bush was trying to "push the envelope" of presidential power, Dean said. Under questioning from Specter, he added: "Had a censure resolution been issued about some of Nixon's conduct long before it erupted to the degree and the problem that came, it would have been a godsend."

Dean was getting under the skin of Sen. Orrin Hatch. "You don't know whether [Bush] has violated any existing statute," the Utah Republican challenged him.

Dean argued that Bush was "seeking to build presidential power for the sake of presidential power."

"You have no evidence of that," Hatch shot back.

"I have lots of evidence of that," Dean replied.

"I don't think you have any," the senator maintained.


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