MSNBC's David Shuster: When Will Obama Subpoena Cheney?

MSNBC host David Shuster, who usually touts the liberal line on "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," filled in on Monday's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" and came to Barack Obama's defense against comments made by Dick Cheney. Shuster played a "60 Minutes" clip of the President responding to allegations by the former Vice President that he is making the country less safe. The cable host asked guest and Huffington Post blogger Lawrence O'Donnell, "Basically, Obama is saying Cheney claims the founding fathers and American principles that were forged during wartime are failures. Is the President flirting here with calling Cheney un-American?"

Earlier in the segment, the liberal anchor editorialized about Bush: "If the absurdity of the administration that let down its guard on 9/11 lecturing anyone about safety was not enough for you, in our number three story tonight, Mr. Obama hits back." After O'Donnell summarized Obama's argument, that institutions such as Guantanamo Bay have made America less safe, Shuster followed up with a "quick hypothetical." If Cheney keeps up his attack, the host mused, "At what point does President Obama say, 'Okay, you want to debate your tactics? I'll send my attorney general over with a subpoena'?"

Shuster also speculated about another terrorist attack on the United States and asked "who gets blamed? Obama for failing to stop it or Bush/Cheney for failing to stop al Qaeda?" O'Donnell then derided the Bush administration for not doing enough in Afghanistan. He actually asserted, "You've got to recognize that before Obama gets there, there was a seven-year period of an administration that, as far as we can tell, was doing nothing to drive down al Qaeda recruitment and al Qaeda cultural success, if not particularly tactical success in that region." (The Bush administration was doing nothing to fight al Qaeda recruitment in Afghanistan?)

As noted earlier, Shuster speculated as to whether the President was using the "60 Minutes" interview to call Cheney "un-American." On the March 4 edition of "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," the host echoed a similar theme. He contended that if congressional Republicans "align themselves with Rush's statements about wanting the President to fail, they appear unpatriotic."

A transcript of the March 23 "Countdown" segment, which aired at 8:36pm, follows:

DAVID SHUSTER: A week ago yesterday, the former Vice President of the United States was lecturing the current President on national television, and declaring that Mr. Obama's policies were making this country less safe. If the absurdity of the administration that let down its guard on 9/11 lecturing anyone about safety was not enough for you, in our number three story tonight, Mr. Obama hits back. In a "60 Minutes" interview last night, Mr. Obama was asked about the lingering war in Afghanistan, the first war Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney failed to finish. In that context, Mr. Obama was asked about Mr. Cheney's remarks last Sunday, in which Mr. Cheney said that shutting down Guantanamo Bay and ending U.S. practices of torturing detainees weaken the U.S., because they were essential to preventing another attack.

BARACK OBAMA: I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney, not surprisingly. You know, I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests. I think he is drawing the wrong lesson from history. The facts don‘t bear him out. I think he is- that attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is, after all these years, how many convictions came out of Guantanamo? How many- how many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment, which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against U.S. interests all around the world. This is the legacy that's been left behind. And, you know, I'm surprised that the Vice President is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let's assume we didn't change these practices; how long are we going to go? Are we going to just keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that is really going to make us safer?

SHUSTER: Mr. Obama also saying the U.S. has, quote, "not done a particularly effective job in sorting through Gitmo detainees" to determine who was a threat and who was, quote, "just swept up," apparently referring to last week's claim by Colin Powell's former chief of staff that U.S. leadership, including Cheney, fought Powell to keep people they knew were innocent detained for years at Gitmo. I'm joined now by MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell, also a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com, and former chief of staff to the Senate Finance Committee. And Lawrence, thanks for your time tonight.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Good to be here, David.

SHUSTER: CBS raised the Cheney remarks, but Mr. Obama clearly decided to take them remarks on strong. How come?

O'DONNELL: Well, he clearly decided he wanted to push back very hard on this thing. It looks like- it was very clear that this really engages the President as a politician, as commander in chief, and as a constitutional scholar. He knows that politically this argument has to be countered, that he can't leave it out there, that the Vice President is saying we are less safe. He knows as commander in chief that it is his job to guarantee that safety now. And so he's willing to discuss publicly exactly what the under-pinnings are of his strategy in this territory. And he also, as we saw in the clips, takes a wider view that the Bush/Cheney team never, ever allowed a discussion of, which is, if you use this particular tactic at Guantanamo, for example, what does it do to al Qaeda recruitment around the world? What does it do to promoting the al Qaeda cause? And the balancing of cause and effect is something that Cheney has never recognized to be even relevant to the conversation.

SHUSTER: Mr. Obama said Cheney leads a movement that asserts America cannot, quote, "reconcile our core values with being safe." Basically, Obama is saying Cheney claims the founding fathers and American principles that were forged during wartime are failures. Is the President flirting here with calling Cheney un-American?

O'DONNELL: Well, I think we know that this President is not the type of politician who would use language like that. He went in the most gentle direction possible with that when he said he thought the Vice President was drawing the wrong lessons from history. But, he pushed back very forcefully in saying that, in fact, the Cheney position has done real damage to us worldwide. And, and, you know, he didn't even get into issues like, oh, by this way, this Guantanamo Bay operation was supposed to keep us so safe, they actually released some people from there who immediately went to work against us as terrorists. And so the Cheney formulation collapses from any angle you look at it. And I actually think President Obama was careful not to personalize it, not to use the word Cheney whenever possible, in the way he approached this, but to really hit back at the concepts very hard.

SHUSTER: But, as careful as President Obama is or was, here's a quick hypothetical, suppose Cheney's cohorts keep pushing this stuff about making us weaker. At what point does President Obama say, "Okay, you want to debate your tactics? I'll send my attorney general over with a subpoena"?

O'DONNELL: Well, that's a good point. Much about these tactics we do not know. Much of it remains secret. Who authorized what at what time? What did Cheney know? When did he know it? What did the President know? When did he know it? This is not something they want to get into. It certainly isn't something they ever want to get into under oath. And, so what the President knows is that Cheney is allowed to take these pot shots in television cameras, while avoiding ever having to do a real accounting of what went on when, and what kind of legal liabilities might be involved in decisions that the vice president and President made.

SHUSTER: Next year, the same amount of time will have elapsed since 9/11 as elapsed after the first World Trade Center bombing until 9/11. If there is another attack, who gets blamed? Obama for failing to stop it or Bush/Cheney for failing to stop al Qaeda?

O'DONNELL: We know who Dick Cheney is going to blame. We would see a real blame fight this time around. You've got to recognize that before Obama gets there, there was a seven-year period of an administration that, as far as we can tell, was doing nothing to drive down al Qaeda recruitment and al Qaeda cultural success, if not particularly tactical success in that region. And so, I mean, if there was another attack, one thing we'd want to know is when did these attackers join al Qaeda, if that's who does it? What inspired them to do this to the United States? But I don't think the blame discussion would ever get that sophisticated. Immediately, the Republican side would be saying it is Obama's fault and who knows what the Obama side would be saying about it. I think President Obama would be the type who would step forward and take that responsibility for anything that happens on his watch. Let's hope we never see that particular argument break out.

SHUSTER: Lawrence O'Donnell, contributor to the "Huffington Post," thanks as always. We appreciate it.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org