MSNBC's Olbermann: “Doesn't that Mean the President Should Be Impeached?"

Citing liberal Republican Senator Arlen Specter as his authority on whether President Bush's actions were “illegal,” and with “Invoking the 'I' Word” on screen beneath a picture of Bush, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann opened his Monday night Countdown program: “So if the Republican Chairman of the Senate committee investigating the wiretaps says the wiretaps were illegal, and the President says he personally authorized the wiretaps, doesn't that mean the President should be impeached?"

Olbermann proceeded to fondly recall, without any notion that those hearings led to impairing intelligence agencies, how back in the 1970s, “Democratic Senator Frank Church of Idaho and other lawmakers became the first to lift the veil on the super-secret world of the National Security Agency. Our fifth story on the Countdown: Deja vu all over again. New President, new technology, same danger, perhaps. Today's re-make of the cautionary drama beginning with promise, Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, repeating, in milder form, his Sunday talk show conclusions that the present-day spying program is or could be illegal." Olbermann soon cued up his guest, John Dean: “Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the authorization of wiretaps without warrants is indeed illegal, as its critics say it is, has the President committed an impeachable offense?” Dean agreed: “Well he certainly has.” (Transcript follows.)



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Back in late December, as documented in this NewsBusters item by Brad Wilmouth, Olbermann raised impeachment with the same guest, John Dean. In both appearances Olbermann highlighted how Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, is author of Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.
Olbermann's “Sunday talk show” reference was to the January 15 This Week when host George Stephanopoulos asked Specter what the remedy might be if the President's policy is deemed illegal. As recounted in this NewsBusters item, Specter answered: "Well, the remedy could be a variety of things. A President, and I’m not suggesting remotely that there is any basis, but your asking, really, theory, what’s the remedy, impeachment is the remedy. After impeachment you can have a criminal prosecution. But the principal remedy under our society is to pay a political price." Stephanopoulos soon followed up: "You know, you mentioned the possibility, the remote possibility of impeachment. Are you willing to follow this as far as it needs to go?" Specter distanced himself from any pursuit of impeachment: "I sure am, but I don’t see any talk about impeachment here. I don’t think anyone doubts that the President is making a good faith effort, that he sees a real problem, as we all do. And he is acting in a way that he feels he must. I’ve had an opportunity to discuss a range of issues with him. He’s been to Pennsylvania a lot and I get a chance to talk to him."

Olbermann teased at the top of the February 6 Countdown:
“Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? So if the Republican Chairman of the Senate committee investigating the wiretaps says the wiretaps were illegal, and the President says he personally authorized the wiretaps, doesn't that mean the President should be impeached?”

Olbermann soon opened his show:
“Good evening, the hearing began with these words, 'We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA in light of its tremendous potential for abuse. Thanks to modern technological developments it does its job very well. The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications.' Sound at all familiar? Those words were actually spoken 30 years ago, that is when Democratic Senator Frank Church of Idaho and other lawmakers became the first to lift the veil on the super-secret world of the National Security Agency. Our fifth story on the Countdown: Deja vu all over again. New President, new technology, same danger, perhaps. Today's re-make of the cautionary drama beginning with promise, Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, repeating, in milder form, his Sunday talk show conclusions that the present-day spying program is or could be illegal.”

Specter at hearing: “The President does not have a blank check. [edit jump] The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed in 1978, and has a forceful and blanket prohibition against any electronic surveillance without a court order.”

Interviewing John Dean a few minutes later, Olbermann raised impeachment:
“Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the authorization of wiretaps without warrants is indeed illegal, as its critics say it is, has the President committed an impeachable offense?”

John Dean: “Well he certainly has. First it would be a felony if indeed he had broken the law. But a high crime or misdemeanor truly is a political crime, if you will. And the Congress and the House in the first instance would have to make a decision that the politics of this and his defiance of the law outweighed his very good intention, which is to try to capture or spot terrorism before it becomes a problem. And that's going to be a very tough balance because we have so little knowledge about what's truly going on. They're having it both ways in the sense that they are keeping this under national security and they are keeping it all classified, so we don't really know what's going and that's very difficult to make a judgment on.”

Olbermann: “But there's a second edge to this sword. Senator Kennedy said today that the eavesdropping program might actually have weakened national security because if you go to court with this evidence from tainted surveillance, you may wind up losing your prosecutions of any terrorists or sympathizers or people who got collect calls from al Qaeda. Do you buy that legally?”

Dean: “I think that the Senator is correct that as a practical matter you couldn't walk in with a warrant list gathered intelligence and use it in a court of law. But the way the Bush people have dealt with this is that they would probably declare somebody they found listening through -- through one of their listening operations as an enemy combatant, and throw him instead brig, and due process would be irrelevant under the current procedures.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center