Arizona’s senators received poor marks for civil liberties this week at a Valley forum featuring Richard Nixon’s former White House lawyer, John Dean.
The forum mostly focused on warrantless eavesdropping and the Bush administration, but Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., received some of the worst lashings for his decision earlier Thursday to compromise with the White House on treatment of terror suspects.
McCain was one of several Republican senators who has butted heads with President Bush on the interrogation and prosecution of such suspects.
“It doesn’t live up to the ideals that John McCain says he has espoused,” said panelist Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. “I have to say that it’s a real disappointment.”
Fredrickson’s comment drew cheers and applause from the packed house Thursday night at Grace Lutheran Church in central Phoenix.
“Senator (Jon) Kyl has never been a believer in civil rights,” Fredrickson said before the forum began.
Neither the senators nor their representatives could be reached for comment late Thursday.
However, the star of the forum, titled “Spying, Secrecy, and Presidential Power,” was Dean, who worked with Nixon from 1970 to 1973.
He was deeply involved in the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. In recent years, he has railed against the Bush administration with books titled, “Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush” and most recently, “Conservatives Without Conscience.”
The latter was meant to be co-written with Arizona’s late-Sen. Barry Goldwater, who died in 1998. Its title was a play on Goldwater’s own book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”
Goldwater wanted to know why conservatism had been taken over by the religious right and steered in another direction, Dean said.
“They found an old Nixon playbook down in the basement of the White House, dusted it off and said, ‘This looks pretty good,’ ” he said.