Allegations that the Bush administration lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, if true, are more serious than the Watergate scandal, says John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon.

“In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison,” Dean wrote in an on-line commentary. “If the Bush administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.”

Dean wrote: “To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be ‘a high crime’ under the Constitution’s impeachment clause.”

Two months after the fall of Baghdad, politicians and pundits are intensely debating the administration’s credibility about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Some favor congressional hearings into alleged inaccuracy or manipulation of national security information. Others press for patience, insisting that U.S. experts will eventually find Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that congressional hearings about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were inevitable.

“Sooner or later, we will have hearings. It’s entirely appropriate to do so,” said the Arizona Republican.

“Any delay will, I think, not be in the interest of the American people. Let’s move forward, have those hearings and have the American people in on it,” said McCain, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he favored a review of intelligence, but not a formal congressional hearing.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrats on the Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee respectively, said they supported congressional hearings.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., charged yesterday in a news conference that some Democratic criticism of the Bush administration was for political gain. “I will not allow the committee to be politicized,” he said.

Roberts said he had no doubt about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, saying the weapons were dispersed, hidden or offshore.

Speaking to Democrats on Sunday, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., charged the Bush administration “lied, in the sense that it didn’t tell the whole truth.”
Graham was one of four Democratic presidential candidates questioning the Bush administration about the threat of WMD at a picnic in Iowa.

Dean said in his commentary, “After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power.”

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