Feingold Calls for Bush's Censure -- 3.12.06

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In an exclusive interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold called on the Senate to publicly admonish President Bush for approving domestic wiretaps on American citizens without first seeking a legally required court order.

"This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors," said Feingold, D-Wis., a three-term senator and potential presidential contender.

He said Bush had, "openly and almost thumbing his nose at the American people," continued the NSA domestic wiretap program.

Bush has long asserted that the so-called 'warrantless wiretaps' are an essential tool in the war on terror.

But in a copy of the censure resolution obtained by ABC News, Feingold asserts the president, "repeatedly misled the public prior to the public disclosure of the National Security Agency surveillance program by indicating his administration was relying on court orders to wiretap suspected terrorists inside the United States."

Feingold cites three instances over a yearlong period in which Bush outlined the necessity of a court order or a judge's permission prior to a domestic wiretap of a U.S. citizen.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also appearing exclusively on "This Week," defended Bush.

"Russ is just wrong, he is flat wrong, he is dead wrong," Frist said.

The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll put the president's approval rating at 41 percent, nearly a career low. But that does not necessarily mean Feingold's censure resolution will succeed.

Censure, essentially a public disapproval by the Senate as a whole, has only been applied to one president, Andrew Jackson, in a politically charged move the Senate historian's office describes as an "unprecedented and never-repeated tactic."

Frist called the censure attempt "political" and a "terrible, terrible signal" to enemies of the U.S. abroad. He assured Stephanopoulos that the resolution would never gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Feingold, best-known for his bipartisan fight for campaign finance reform with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., intends to introduce the resolution this week -- insisting the move is not a political stunt.

"We, as a Congress, have to stand up to a president who acts like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were repealed on Sept 11, [2001]," Feingold said.

Video of Feingold's and Frist's full interviews will be posted at www.thisweek.abcnews.com.

"This Week with George Stephanopolous" airs on Sundays. Please check local listings for times.

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