Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC: Cheney Speech ‘Sleazy,’ ‘An Abomination’

Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC Immediately following a speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday, MSNBC assembled its usual panel of left-wing pundits to tear him down, including political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, who proclaimed: "Well, he came today to -- obviously to do nothing much other than defend torture, which he calls 'tough questioning.' This was as sleazy a presentation by a vice president as we've had since Spiro Agnew. This was an absolute abomination."

Chris Matthews anchored the coverage and had just asked O’Donnell: "Lawrence, can he get away with this? Giving a speech that's -- well, it was 16 pages long -- and never mention the main foreign policy initiative of the administration just passed, which is the war in Iraq." After O’Donnell denounced Cheney’s sleaziness, he went on this diatribe:

He [Cheney] cannot, ever, frame the other side's position honestly. What you saw with Obama earlier was Obama describes the other side's position fairly. He then goes on to advance his position. Cheney comes out and lies about the other side, it's the only way he can talk. He says that Obama will not use the word 'terrorist,' when Obama does indeed use that word. He pretends that all we did was tough questioning. He says that 9/11 -- he says that 9/11 made everyone take a second look at the threat. That is a lie. Dick Cheney and the President were in possession of memos that said this threat was present, this particular methodology was going to come, that they were going to use airliners. He and the President failed in their first nine months in office to pay any attention to the A.Q. Khan network, who he now wants to take credit for dismantling. What did Cheney do before 9/11? He denies, in this speech, that 9/11 changed him and then describes his very specific activities on 9/11, which were frightening for the Vice President. Then he goes on to say that he thinks about it every day. This guy just has to lie from beginning to end through his setup of his opposition's position in order to advance any of his ideas at all, none of which have any proof to them at all.

Matthews later turned to another hard left voice, former CIA agent Jack Rice, who attempted to match O’Donnell’s vitriol: "He [Cheney] beat the CIA like a pinata for year after year until all of a sudden he's going to be their champion. Look, this is a guy that I'm watching today who wraps himself in the flag with the Constitution in tatters at his feet...We look at where we're going and what it means, he apparently doesn't care as long as he looks good doing it."

Moments later, correspondent Andrea Mitchell chimed in, claiming that Cheney: "...sets up what I think is a false choice when he says that you can only draw two conclusions. That either the vigilance and the strategy that they employed worked because America was never attacked since 9/11, or that 9/11 was a one-time event and won't happen again and that you don't have to use those techniques. There is -- there are other choices...you don't have to use those techniques, the techniques of the Bush/Cheney administration, in order to keep America safe."

Matthews next referenced Cheney’s criticism of the closing of Guantanamo Bay and the possibility of American taxpayer dollars being used to support terrorists in American prisons. Pat Buchanan, the only voice from the right, argued: "They get lawyers paid -- yeah, if they're in the United States, they'll get lawyers paid for by the American people, they'll get various privilege in defenses and stuff like that paid for by the country." O’Donnell lashed out again: "Now Chris, you've pointed out another very clear Dick Cheney lie. It is just a lie. Who is paying for the daily existence of the terrorists in Gitmo now? Who is paying for that? The American taxpayer. This is the kind of sleazy arguing that this guy does in these speeches. It is just ridiculous. It is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who's listening to him."

Mitchell made one final point: "There was one clever thing, also, that he did do, was to challenge the President to declassify those memos, which he claims prove that he's correct, that the techniques worked and kept us safer." O’Donnell angrily ranted: "But after objecting to the release of top-secret information. The Vice President objects to the release of top-secret information. In the next sentence, he advocates it." Buchanan summed up the cause of O’Donnell’s rage: "Lawrence's reaction tells you that Cheney's speech worked."

Here is the full transcript of the exchange:

11:55AM SEGMENT:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, that was the former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. What I found odd in that statement was a strong defense of the CIA, an organization that this vice president was at war with through much of his administration as vice president, in a very strong combat effort to blame each other for how we got the bad WMD information about Iraq. Pat Buchanan, it's so ironic, having lived in this city during those years, in sort of those months after we went into Iraq, and to have watched this fearsome warfare between the Vice President's office, led by Dick Cheney there, and the CIA. To see him embrace the operatives of the CIA and claim that he is their supporter, a strange -- strange move.

PAT BUCHANAN: Well, he not only embraced them, he's emerged and cast himself as their defender against these attacks. He just -- Chris, I'll tell you-

MATTHEWS: But the attacks aren't on the CIA. The attacks are on Dick Cheney.

BUCHANAN: Well look, what he's doing, though, his attacks are on the New York Times, and the media, and the Obama administration, as dishonest, deceitful, moralizing, not telling the whole truth. This was as rough, as candid, as anecdotal -- and even though it is not as elegant as speech as Obama's, it is far more interesting. We all of us were far more riveted, I think, here, by what he was saying than what Obama was saying. And I'll tell you, Cheney has emerged, I don't know what the breakdown in the country is, he has emerged here as the leader of the tough line, 'we only waterboarded three of them,' and I think -- I think the gauntlet was really thrown down. It has never yet been by Vice President Cheney.

MATTHEWS: Lawrence, can he get away with this? Giving a speech that's -- well, it was 16 pages long -- and never mention the main foreign policy initiative of the administration just passed, which is the war in Iraq. He hardly mentioned it. That was the issue between him and people in the CIA, the operatives who didn't think the war was a great idea. That was the issue for the last eight years, and yet he's trying to defend it, it seems to me, without saying so. That seems to have been his strategy, he was right, his critics are wrong, and the main argument, of course, was 'we were right to go to Iraq.'

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Well, he came today to -- obviously to do nothing much other than defend torture, which he calls 'tough questioning.' This was as sleazy a presentation by a vice president as we've had since Spiro Agnew. This was an absolute abomination. He cannot, ever, frame the other side's position honestly. What you saw with Obama earlier was Obama describes the other side's position fairly. He then goes on to advance his position. Cheney comes out and lies about the other side, it's the only way he can talk. He says that Obama will not use the word 'terrorist,' when Obama does indeed use that word. He pretends that all we did was tough questioning. He says that 9/11 -- he says that 9/11 made everyone take a second look at the threat. That is a lie. Dick Cheney and the President were in possession of memos that said this threat was present, this particular methodology was going to come, that they were going to use airliners. He and the President failed in their first nine months in office to pay any attention to the A.Q. Khan network, who he now wants to take credit for dismantling. What did Cheney do before 9/11? He denies, in this speech, that 9/11 changed him and then describes his very specific activities on 9/11, which were frightening for the Vice President. Then he goes on to say that he thinks about it every day. This guy just has to lie from beginning to end through his setup of his opposition's position in order to advance any of his ideas at all, none of which have any proof to them at all.

MATTHEWS: Mark Whitaker, in terms of the news coming out of this, it seems to me, the Vice President is adding to fears expressed by the U.S. Senate yesterday in that 90 to 6 vote, bringing these terrorist suspects into the United States prisons, into our prison system. He certainly declares war, saying that that is a bad mistake and he's opposed to it.

MARK WHITAKER: The bottom line is that the President gave a speech which was very eloquent, but I don't think, necessarily, is going to get Congress to restore the funding for shutting down Guantanamo or convince congressmen that they should have prisoners in their home districts. What seems really unfortunate, I think, in the Vice President's speech, but also to some degree, even in the President's speech, is that on both sides, although they may have disagreed about the methods, both of these administrations want to keep the American people safe. And I think, particularly the Vice President's speech, but also the President's speech, I think are not going to put an end to what is increasingly becoming a very divisive debate in this country. Both of them said that they opposed a truth commission, but it seems to me, we have to find some bipartisan way of coming together, addressing these issues, and moving forward. A plot was just foiled in New York yesterday to blow up a synagogue and to shoot down planes. Can you imagine if there was another attack like that, rather than bringing us together, as 9/11 did, I think in this political climate, it would just rip this country apart.

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- let me go to Jack Rice, who's got experience with the CIA. I was struck, as other people were here, by the strength of the former Vice President's argument on behalf of the CIA. I never thought of him as an agency guy. I always thought of him as a guy on the ideological side of that fight, going into the war in Iraq, and coming out of that war, in terms of the blame game. There was a ferocious fight, as you know, here in 2003 after the invasion, occupation, and we were unable to find a WMD, as to whose fault the whole thing was. And clearly the VP's office was at war, as was Karl Rove and the rest of that bunch, to blame the agency.

JACK RICE: Yeah, apparently the Vice President has no problem with actually looking at the facts as they stood then and as they stand now. He beat the CIA like a pinata for year after year until all of a sudden he's going to be their champion. Look, this is a guy that I'm watching today who wraps himself in the flag with the Constitution in tatters at his feet. If we look at the facts for just a second, let's go back to 2005 and what the Department of Justice memo said about Abu Zubaydah. He was tortured 82 times in one month, in one month, and not one piece of actionable intelligence came out of that. So if we talk about how this saved lives, let's look at the ramifications of what actually happened here and what it means on a world-wide stage. But, apparently, the Vice President has no need to look at those facts either. We look at where we're going and what it means, he apparently doesn't care as long as he looks good doing it.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask Andrea to put a big picture around this, a big box around it. It seems to me the Vice President has set up a Manichean world here, black and white, 'we were right, you were wrong. You're going to be wrong if you keep on your course.'

ANDREA MITCHELL: He praises the President when the President agrees with him, for instance, on not releasing the pictures, but then he says that the middle ground that the President is trying to take, and did fairly eloquently in his speech today, is a mistake and that you have to agree with the Vice President's approach, the former Vice President's approach, in order to keep America safe. He also sets up what I think is a false choice when he says that you can only draw two conclusions. That either the vigilance and the strategy that they employed worked because America was never attacked since 9/11, or that 9/11 was a one-time event and won't happen again and that you don't have to use those techniques. There is -- there are other choices. And one of those choices is that you believe that America can be attacked, as Mark was just pointing out, there was a plot foiled, we are told, in New York City, but that you don't have to use those techniques, the techniques of the Bush/Cheney administration, in order to keep America safe. So here you've got the former vice president saying they worked, the current president saying, they -- 'you don't need those techniques in order to keep America safe.' And you can't bring those two sides together. We are at a real impasse here and I've never seen the debate framed more divisively than we've heard it today.

MATTHEWS: Let's try to follow the news at it proceeds into the programs tonight on this network, and in the Nightly News, and elsewhere in the papers tomorrow. It seems to me there's two lines of the story developing here. One, what do we do with these prisoners if we get them out of Gitmo? The President lost his fight in the Senate yesterday, dramatically, 90 to 6. Now the Vice President, the former Vice President, joined in the fight with those 90 senators, clearly exploiting it, saying today, just now, 'Attorney General Holder and others have admitted that the United States will be required to accept a number of the terrorists here in the homeland,' you got to love this language, 'and it has even been suggested U.S. taxpayer dollars will be used to support them.' As if we're setting up some sort of happy hunting ground for these people. We're putting them in prison and feeding them, and giving them pajamas. What is this 'supporting them' about, Pat? This is loaded language to scare the American people, that we're giving these people TV sets, and barbells, and a nice way to live.

BUCHANAN: Well, here's what he said-

MATTHEWS: Isn't that what he's saying?

BUCHANAN: No, they're bringing them to the United States, they bring them into court, do they get bail? They get lawyers-

MATTHEWS: That's not what he's saying. He's saying relocating to the states.

BUCHANAN: They get lawyers paid -- yeah, if they're in the United States, they'll get lawyers paid for by the American people, they'll get various privilege in defenses and stuff like that paid for by the country. And if they're not convicted and they're released, where do they go? No country will take them. Do they come into the United States? Chris, what you've got is what Andrea said, you've got the President of the United States, said Cheney and his guys made us less safe because they disgraced us. Cheney says, 'you've made us less safe right now.' Cheney, I think, because of the graphic kind of anecdotal stuff he's got, is a much stronger, frankly, more balanced speech-

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Lawrence on this. The Vice President made clear today that he's going to hold these guys if they're dangerous, even if he can't make a criminal case against them. I don't know how he could be stronger in terms of what he intends to do with these people. Lawrence O'Donnell?

O'DONNELL: Exactly. The President said very clearly he's not going to release any terrorist -- and he uses the word terrorist -- who could endanger Americans. Now Chris, you've pointed out another very clear Dick Cheney lie. It is just a lie. Who is paying for the daily existence of the terrorists in Gitmo now? Who is paying for that? The American taxpayer. This is the kind of sleazy arguing that this guy does in these speeches. It is just ridiculous. It is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who's listening to him.

MITCHELL: There was one clever thing, also, that he did do, was to challenge the President to declassify those memos, which he claims prove that he's correct, that the techniques worked and kept us safer.

MATTHEWS: Well we'll be back-

O'DONNELL: But after objecting to the release of top-secret information. The Vice President objects to the release of top-secret information. In the next sentence, he advocates it.

BUCHANAN: Lawrence's reaction tells you that Cheney's speech worked.

MATTHEWS: Okay. We're all going to be on tonight on 'Hardball,' if I can book all these people, I hope I can get all you. Because this debate has only begun. The Vice President has unleashed a firestorm by -- properly said he has called for the release of those redacted statements that prove, somehow, he claims, or says, that prove that this interrogation of these prisoners, the waterboarding if you will, proved result-ful. And we're going to see whether that's going to go anywhere. And I also think he's joined this fight as to what to do with those prisoners once we close Gitmo. That'll be all coming up throughout the afternoon here on MSNBC. I'm Chris Matthews signing off for now.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC