A federal judge offered his "profound regret" Thursday for saying President Bush's rise to power was similar to that of Mussolini and Hitler.

Judge Guido Calabresi (search), 71, of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, drew an audible gasp from lawyers attending Saturday's convention of the American Constitution Society (search) in Washington, according to the New York Sun, which quoted the speech in Monday's editions.

"My remarks were extemporaneous and, in hindsight, reasonably could be — and indeed have been — understood to do something which I did not intend, that is, take a partisan position," Calabresi wrote in a letter of apology to Chief Judge John Walker.

Calabresi, a former dean of Yale Law School (search), was quoted saying the U.S. Supreme Court "put somebody in power" when a ruling it made in December 2000 settled the dispute over whether Bush had defeated Al Gore.

"In a way that occurred before but is rare in the United States ... somebody came to power as a result of the illegitimate acts of a legitimate institution that had the right to put somebody in power," Calabresi said. "The reason I emphasize that is because that is exactly what happened when Mussolini was put in by the king of Italy.

"The King of Italy had the right to put Mussolini in, though he had not won an election, and make him prime minister," the judge continued. "That is what happened when [German President Paul von] Hindenburg put Hitler in."

Calabresi told the lawyers: "I am not suggesting for a moment that Bush is Hitler. I want to be clear on that, but it is a situation which is extremely unusual."

Calabresi went on to say the public should expel Bush from office to cleanse the democratic system.

"That's got nothing to do with the politics of it. It's got to do with the structural reassertion of democracy," Calabresi was quoted saying.

In his letter of apology, Calabresi said he was "deeply sorry" for remarks that were meant as "a rather complicated academic argument about the nature of re-elections after highly contested original elections" — but that were "too easily taken as partisan."

"That is something which judges should do their best to avoid, and there, I clearly failed," he wrote.

In a letter to the rest of the appeals judges, Walker said Calabresi's "off-the-cuff" comments had been viewed as a call to oppose Bush's re-election. He warned them to refrain from political activity or public endorsements because partisan political comments violate the Code of Judicial Conduct (search).