WASHINGTON — Call it the un-impeachment hearing.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Friday that it insisted was not about removing President Bush from office.
But critics of Bush's policies couldn't pass up the chance to accuse the president of a long list of impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Leading the way was Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), the former Democratic presidential candidate who has brought repeated impeachment resolutions to the House floor against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Kucinich got a rock-star welcome -- whistles, hoots and clapping -- from hundreds of antiwar, anti-Bush people crammed into the hearing room and lining the hallways outside.
T-shirts reading "Arrest Bush" and "Veterans for Impeachment" illustrated the sentiments of many.
"The decision before us is whether to demand accountability for one of the gravest injustices imaginable," Kucinich testified, avoiding use of the "I" word.
The House Democratic leadership, not interested in an impeachment battle in the last year of Bush's presidency, steered Kucinich's resolutions to the panel to quietly fade away.
But Friday's hearing gave Kucinich and his allies an opportunity to air their views.
"To the regret of many, this is not an impeachment hearing," said Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), pointing out the event's less incendiary title, "executive power and its constitutional limitations."
Still, Conyers, a vocal opponent of Bush, noted that his panel had pursued many allegations that Kucinich and others regard as grounds for impeachment: manipulating intelligence about Iraq; misusing authority with regard to torture, detention and rendition; politicizing the Justice Department; and retaliating against critics.
Republicans were in the minority at the hearing.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River) called it "impeachment lite," where people were given free rein to impugn Bush but not to impeach him.
"It seems that we are hosting an anger-management class," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee's senior Republican.
"This hearing will not cause us to impeach the president; it will only serve to impeach Congress' credibility."
The committee also reminded lawmakers and those testifying that House rules prohibit "personal abuse, innuendo or ridicule of the president."
The House Rules and Manual says that suggestions of mendacity or accusations of hypocrisy, demagoguery or deception are out of order.
"The rules of the House prevent me or any witness from utilizing familiar terms," Kucinich said.
"But we can put two and two together in our minds."
Former Los Angeles County prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, known for his prosecution of Charles Manson in 1970, acknowledged that "I am forbidden from accusing [Bush] of a crime, or even any dishonorable conduct," under House rules.
But he could encourage people to read his book "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) called Bush "the worst president that our nation has ever suffered."
One witness, law professor Jeremy Rabkin of George Mason University, said he was "astonished at the mood in this room."
"The tone of these deliberations is slightly demented," Rabkin said.
"You should all remind yourselves that the rest of the country is not necessarily in this same bubble in which people think it is reasonable to describe the president as if he were Caligula."