On Wednesday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann cited a Chicago Tribune piece by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley as he explored whether, as with the Sopranos, you have to "break the law" to "break into the inner circle" of President Bush. Focusing on Bush's nomination of General Michael Hayden to run the CIA, and citing Hayden's role in creating the controversial NSA spying program, Olbermann argued that Bush counts "willingness to thumb his nose at constitutional law" as resume enhancement. The Countdown host then brought aboard Turley to make an unchallenged case that the administration consists of a "rogues' gallery." (Transcript follows)
Olbermann previewed his segment with Turley in the show's teaser: "Comparing the family Bush to the family Soprano: To break into the inner circle, do you have to break the law? Friday, Porter Goss quits in haste as CIA chief, Wednesday Porter Goss gets the Congressional Distinguished Service Award. Months and years ago, General Michael Hayden dreams up the warrantless wiretap, Monday General Michael Hayden becomes CIA chief. Jonathan Turley on making your bones at the Bush Bada Bing."
Olbermann opened the show making his latest comparison between Bush and Richard Nixon: "The Bush administration is nothing if not counterintuitive. With disapproval numbers now rivaling Richard Nixon's, Mr. Bush still nominated for his new CIA chief a man almost guaranteed to draw confirmation fight." Regarding Bush's choice of Hayden as CIA chief, Olbermann contended that he was chosen because of his "willingness to thumb his nose at constitutional law."
Citing Turley's piece, Olbermann continued, "Mr. Turley likens the Bush team, in fact, to The Sopranos at the end of his piece: Get criminal and get made." Implying that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is guilty of "criminal acts," and blaming him for torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the Countdown host continued: "He cites other administration officials whose criminal acts, or potentially criminal behavior, have posed no barrier to advancement, like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who as White House counsel may well have been the architect of the kinds of torture, at least the legalese for the torture that led to the Abu Ghraib abuses."
Olbermann then gave Turley a forum to argue his case without challenge that the Bush administration consists of a "rogues' gallery" of people "accused of violating the law" who were given a "rapid ascent" in the administration. Turley further claimed that the President's theory of his power is "so extreme that it's unprecedented" because he believes he "has the inherent authority to violate federal law."
Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the May 10 Countdown show:
Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Comparing the family Bush to the family Soprano: To break into the inner circle, do you have to break the law? Friday, Porter Goss quits in haste as CIA chief, Wednesday Porter Goss gets the Congressional Distinguished Service Award. Months and years ago, General Michael Hayden dreams up the warrantless wiretap, Monday General Michael Hayden becomes CIA chief. Jonathan Turley on making your bones at the Bush Bada Bing."
Olbermann opened the show: "The Bush administration is nothing if not counterintuitive. With disapproval numbers now rivaling Richard Nixon's, Mr. Bush still nominated for his new CIA chief a man almost guaranteed to draw confirmation fight. General Michael Hayden, creator of the domestic eavesdropping program. Mr. Bush says General Hayden is perfect for the CIA, and perhaps he was chosen for elevation despite or because of a characteristic that is normally seen as a liability: his arguable willingness to thumb his nose at constitutional law. That notion has been suggested by the noted professor in that subject, Jonathan Turley, who will join us presently. Mr. Turley likens the Bush team, in fact, to the Sopranos at the end of his piece: Get criminal and get made. He cites other administration officials whose criminal acts, or potentially criminal behavior, have posed no barrier to advancement, like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who as White House counsel may well have been the architect of the kinds of torture, at least the legalese for the torture that led to the Abu Ghraib abuses. As promised, we're joined now by professor of constitutional law, George Washington University, Jonathan Turley. Thanks again for your time, sir."
Jonathan Turley, George Washington University: "Thanks, Keith."
Olbermann: "Your joke about The Sopranos in the Chicago Tribune piece, timely, telling, it will fire up everybody on both sides. But the argument beneath it is dead serious. From the point of view of the Constitution, the point of view of the law of the land, what are you seeing here?"
Turley: "Well, you know, this is a pretty impressive rogues' gallery. You know, from his very first term, Bush shocked many people by reaching out to officials who had either been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and others who many felt should have been indicted. They included people like Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to three crimes. They were misdemeanors. John Poindexter, who was convicted of three crimes. Those were thrown out on a mere technicality later. You had Otto Reich, who was accused of a domestic surveillance, propaganda program. You have a very long list of people. And what emerged through the two terms was that people who seemed to be accused of violating the law had a rapid ascent in this administration. And one has to wonder whether this is suddenly a criteria, that the President likes people who are willing to go to the edge of the law and beyond it to achieve what he believes is a worthy purpose."
Olbermann: "If it's personnel decisions or if it's a president signing a statement relating to a law that basically says I'm not going to obey this law if I don't feel like it, or if it's something larger, more aggressive, domestic surveillance or any of these other things, where are the constitutional checks? Is that machinery still present? Is it still working? Is it rusted or is it not working at all?"
Turley: "Well, it's not working very well. Many federal judges have, in fact, really brought the Bush administration up to the bar of the court, and they have, in fact, rejected many of the arguments, including the Supreme Court of the United States. But the real check and balance for this type of thing rests with Congress. And Congress has done nothing. Do you realize that Congress has not even held a substantive investigation of the NSA operation, an operation that most of us believe was criminal, that the federal law defines quite clearly as a federal crime? Now, instead of investigating that, the Congress actually gave the President a standing ovation during the State of the Union speech when he promised to continue to violate that law, when he continued, he said he would continue this program. And the people who were responsible for passing the law that he was violating gave him a standing ovation. It was the most bizarre thing I've ever seen in my life. But now we have the architect of that program, who's been nominated to head the CIA. Now, that was not a natural choice because if you look at his record, it was actually fairly mixed. We're talking about General Hayden. General Hayden's accused of wasting as much as $2 billion when he was at the NSA on a program called Trail Blazer. Almost $2 billion. Normally that would be an impediment to advancement."
Olbermann: "I'm surprised he didn't get Secretary of the Treasury. The wartime argument that always comes back in these kind of debates about presidential powers, what's the history on that in terms of the Constitution and the presidents? Have presidents who have been, seemed to have stretched the Constitution, have they been investigated in wartime, even under the much stricter definitions of wartime we used to have?"
Turley: "Well, first of all, this president's theory of his power is now, I think, so extreme that it's unprecedented. He believes that he has the inherent authority to violate federal law. He has said that. Not just the signing statements, in the infamous torture memo that Alberto Gonzalez signed, it was stated that he could in some circumstances order federal officials to violate federal law. And this is consistent across the board with this president. Frankly, I'm not too sure of what he thought he was swearing to when he took the oath of office to uphold the Constitution and our laws. I've never seen a president who's so uncomfortable in his constitutional skin."
Olbermann: "All of this, Jonathan, has been likened to the swing of a pendulum, that this is Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, harkening back to their days as rookies in the Ford administration, watching the fallout of presidential powers being cut back after the abuses of Richard Nixon. If that's true, if it is a pendulum, does the pendulum swing back? Can it? Will it?"
Turley: "Well, unfortunately, civil liberties don't swing back like other issues. Civil liberties is a very precious commodity. When you lose them, it tends to run out of your hand like sand, and it's hard to get it back. And that's one of the dangers here, that presidents, when they acquire power, rarely return it to the people. And so we have to be very concerned. This country is changing in a very significant way, and it's something that citizens have to think about because if there is a war on terror, and I believe that we must fight terror, obviously, but we're trying to defend that Constitution. And we're really at a point where the President is arguing about his own presidential power in ways that are the antithesis of that Constitution and the values that it contains."
Olbermann: "Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley. As always, sir, thanks for your time. Thanks for joining us."
Turley: "Thanks, Keith."