This is something I thought I’d never say, but bravo to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien who did a far better job of questioning Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) concerning his call for a censure of President Bush than ABC’s George Stephanopoulos did on Sunday’s “This Week.”
Feingold appeared on “American Morning” Monday to discuss his proposed censure of the president over his use of the National Security Agency to perform terrorist surveillance. And, O’Brien was quite the pit bull (video link to follow).
Shortly after introductory pleasantries, O’Brien said to Feingold: “Already the Senate majority leader has said ‘it's crazy.’ That's a quote, ‘It's crazy.’” She then asked almost incredulously, “Why are you doing this?”
Nice bedside manner, Soledad. After Feingold’s answer included his belief that this was a very serious matter – “a lot more like an impeachable offense than anything President Clinton ever did” – O’Brien asked exactly the right questions: “If that's the case then, why not call for impeachment? Why call for a censure, which is most people I think would say is kind of a slap on the wrist?”
Feingold suggested the president was basically making up laws. O’Brien fired back: “But you know, you say, we listened and listened, but the truth is the issue is under investigation now. The jury is not back actually on whether this is [illegal].”
But Feingold stated it was quite clear that Bush had broken the law with this program. O’Brien wasn’t having any of that: “I actually have to disagree with that. I think there's a lot of debate about that very issue.”
After showing Feingold a video clip of Senate majority leader Bill Frist’s comments on the subject, O’Brien continued:
“He says it's crazy, it's dangerous. This is the RNC statement. I'm going to read it to you. ‘Not only is Senator Feingold's approach,’ Tracy Schmitt (ph) writes, ‘a disservice to those who work tirelessly to protect America, it sends the wrong message to our enemies.’ What do you make of those criticisms?”
Yikes. Nice way to go for the jugular, Soledad. After a long monologue by Feingold, O’Brien practically chastised him: “And I've got to correct you, which is, I'm not saying it's legal or not. What I'm saying is that there are many of your Democratic colleagues would say let us wait.”
Strong interview, Soledad. Great job.
What follows is a full transcript of this segment along with a video link courtesy of Crooks and Liars.
S. O'BRIEN: Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is taking aim at President Bush. Today, Feingold, a prospective presidential candidate, plans to issue a resolution censuring the president for his domestic wiretap program. Senator Feingold is live on Capitol Hill, joins us this morning.
Nice to see you, senator. Thanks for talking with us.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Good morning. Thank you.
S. O'BRIEN: The official announcement is today. Already the Senate majority leader has said "it's crazy." That's a quote, "It's crazy." Why are you doing this?
FEINGOLD: Well, I think Bill Frist knows better than that. Many of his colleagues on the Republican side, senators, have said repeatedly since we've found out about this eavesdropping program in December, that it wasn't legal. In fact, some are saying, well, it's illegal, so let's make it legal. What does that tell you? That means they're admitting the president broke the law of the United States of America.
Now their answer is just to scream and say it's political and point that out, but it's not political. These are the very same people that went after President Clinton saying he broke the law. I want to tell you something, this is a lot more serious, a lot more like an impeachable offense than anything President Clinton ever did.
S. O'BRIEN: If that's the case then, why not call for impeachment? Why call for a censure, which is most people I think would say is kind of a slap on the wrist? I mean, if you really think it's an impeachable offense...
FEINGOLD: Well, because I think this is the first step. I think what we've done for three months is I'm on both on the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee. We've listened and listened. We've not heard any persuasive argument at all that the president had legal authority to do that. Would it be a good thing for the country now to start an impeachment proceeding? I'm not so sure. I think that's something we ought to think about. Do we really want to remove this president from office because of this? Or do we want to send a clear signal by a censure resolution that what he did was wrong?
If we don't do something to pass a resolution, what we're saying is, Mr. President, just make up whatever law you want, whenever you want. This is a way to restore the constitutional order on a bipartisan basis and allow us to get back to the main issue, which is fighting the war against al Qaeda and terrorism.
S. O'BRIEN: But you know, you say, we listened and listened, but the truth is the issue is under investigation now. The jury is not back actually on whether this is a legal. Why not wait until...
FEINGOLD: Actually, Soledad, the jury has been dismantled. The only committee that was able to handle this was the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Senate Intelligence Committee, the whole committee, a majority of the committee, isn't even going to be allowed to hear about what this program is. And, frankly, in those hearings, we've heard enough to know that we don't know everything about the program.
But we also know that there is no basis and no argument that's credible that this program is legal. In other words, there's a lot more to find out about how the program works, but it's already very clear, and many Republican senators have said that there is no legal basis for it.
S. O'BRIEN: But by your on admission, there's a lot more to find out, so why not wait?
FEINGOLD: But now about the law.
S. O'BRIEN: So why not wait until all that is found out before you call for something quite serious, which is a censure of a sitting president.
FEINGOLD: Because as I said, we're not going to find it out. The administration has already said that they're not going to let the majority of the committee, or the majority of the members of the United States Senate ever find out about this program. They've shut the door. They haven't allowed an investigation. On a partisan basis, they've essentially ruined the role of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and that means, Soledad, we are never going to be able to know the specifics of the program.
But what we do know, and what the president has admitted, is that this is not within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so the president broke the law. So it's entire appropriate to censure the president for breaking the law as we continue our efforts to try to figure out what exactly this program (INAUDIBLE).
There is no serious debate about whether the president was within the law here. He was not. He violated our...
S. O'BRIEN: I actually have to disagree with that. I think there's a lot of debate about that very issue. But I want to ask you about another question, which is the critics who say basically this is, in a nutshell, political grandstanding.
Let's listen to what Senator Frist had to say, which I quoted a little bit earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: I think it's a crazy political move. And I think it, in, part, is a political move. Because here we are, the Republican party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the U.S. as commander-in-chief who is out there fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn -- have sworn to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us. And they're out now attacking, at least today through this proposed censure vote -- out attacking our commander-in-chief. It doesn't make sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
S. O'BRIEN: He says it's crazy, it's dangerous. This is the RNC statement. I'm going to read it to you. "Not only is Senator Feingold's approach," Tracy Schmitt (ph) writes, "a disservice to those who work tirelessly to protect America, it sends the wrong message to our enemies." What do you make of those criticisms?
FEINGOLD: Well, this is the game of intimidation, and it's working. Obviously, they've got you believing somehow that there's a legal basis for this when there isn't. Even Republican senators have said that this was not within the law, but the intimidation campaign of calling people names makes people apparently -- are supposed to stand up or be afraid of saying exactly what the law is and stand up for the Constitution.
Now, look. When President Clinton was under the impeachment situation, I was the only Democratic senator to vote to hear the evidence against President Clinton. The Democrats were very mad at me for that at the time. I ultimately concluded that he should not be convicted. But, Soledad, I voted on an independent basis because I thought there was a possibility the president had broken the law.
So, people can say it's political, but even John Warner himself congratulated me at the time and said Russ, you're independent, you call 'em as you see 'em. I'm a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on the Constitution subcommittee. If I don't stand up say the law was broken here and do something about it, I'm not doing my job. So they can call it political if they want. But my record is clear, I've been independent.
S. O'BRIEN: And I've got to correct you, which is, I'm not saying it's legal or not. What I'm saying is that there are many of your Democratic colleagues would say let us wait.
FEINGOLD: Well, none of them have said it's legal, Soledad. That's my point. None of them have said it's legal.
S. O'BRIEN: And they're saying let us wait.
FEINGOLD: That's true.
S. O'BRIEN: We're out of time. Senator Feingold, always nice to chat with you, spar with you some mornings.
FEINGOLD: That's all right.
S. O'BRIEN: Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with you us.
FEINGOLD: Nice to see you.
S. O'BRIEN: Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin joining us.