Meredith Vieira to John Murtha: 'Is Impeachment Really on the Table?'

Using the newly released George Tenet book and four year anniversary of the President's "Mission Accomplished" speech as a backdrop, NBC's Today show invited on Congressman John Murtha to talk about a troop pullout and even impeachment. During her interview Today co-host Meredith Vieira asked Murtha if the Democrats had a "fallback plan" against a Bush veto of their troop withdrawal bill and then followed that query by bringing up the ‘I' word as she pressed: "Is impeachment really on the table?"

The following questions came during a segment in the first half-hour of the May 1st Today show:

Vieira: "Well let's, let's look forward sir because there is a war funding bill that is gonna be before the President, that the, the Congress has handed him, and he has said he is going to veto it because it sets a timetable for the removal of troops from Iraq. So what is your plan when he does, indeed, veto this? What is your fallback plan?"

...

Vieira: "Sir, over the weekend you made news on your own when you dropped the 'impeachment' word in reference to how Congress could influence the President. To some it sounded like a veiled threat. Is impeachment really on the table? Are you seriously considering it?"

Murtha: "I think the public is so frustrated with the uncompromising of this President. I think the public, I'm getting twice as many calls as I got just a few months ago about impeachment."

Vieira: "Are you seriously considering it sir?"

Murtha: "No I just think that's one of the options. The real option here is the power of the purse. We're gonna press the power of the purse. We've given the President everything in this Iraqi Accountability bill, that he's asked for. $4 billion more and we would hope he signs it. If he doesn't the leadership will sit down with him, we'll work out a compromise."

At the top of the show, coming out of a John Engel report from Iraq, Vieira teased the upcoming Murtha segment by conveniently reminding viewers this was the four-year anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech:

Meredith Vieira: "Okay Richard Engel in Baghdad, reporting for us this morning, thanks very much. And this all comes four years to the day after President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech. Later today congressional Democrats are sending a bill to the White House calling for U.S. troops to get out of Iraq. We will talk to the powerful congressman leading the charge against the war, Democrat John Murtha."

Before the Murtha interview, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell laid the groundwork for Vieira in her set-up piece by highlighting Tenet's "hot" book declaring: "Once the ultimate secret keeper George Tenet's tell-all book is pouring new fuel on the war debate. So hot, excerpts were read on the Senate floor."

After airing video of Sen. Dick Durbin reading from the book O'Donnell did note criticism of Tenet but only aired talking heads that hit Tenet for not criticizing Bush sooner.

O'Donnell: "But Tenet is also taking heat."

Roger Cressey, terrorism expert: "Where George can be rightfully criticized is that he has been silent up till now on the issue of Iraq."

O'Donnell: "An outraged group of former CIA officials sent a letter urging Tenet to donate book royalties to Iraq veterans and give back the Medal of Freedom he accepted from President Bush."

Then in her interview Vieira picked up on Cressey's "Tenet talked too late" line as she demanded of Murtha: "But aren't these assertions a little late in coming, sir? If he had these concerns shouldn't he have aired them much earlier?"

The following is the full segment, beginning with the O'Donnell set-up piece followed by Vieira's questions to Murtha as it aired on the May 1st Today show:

Meredith Vieira: "Today congressional Democrats are handing President Bush a bill that sets a timetable for U.S. troops to come home from Iraq. It comes with debate still raging over the White House's decision to go to war in the first place and now former CIA Director George Tenet's new memoir is adding fuel to that fire. NBC's White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell has more. Kelly, good morning."

[On screen headline: "Tenet Tell-All, Why Did U.S. Go To War?"]

Kelly O'Donnell: "Good morning, Meredith. For seven years, as CIA director, George Tenet came here to the White House every morning to brief the President about national security. He was here for 9/11, he was here for the early part of the war and now his story is both dishing out and taking new criticism."

George Tenet: "I didn't try to write a book to go after people. I try to portray events."

O'Donnell: "Once the ultimate secret keeper George Tenet's tell-all book is pouring new fuel on the war debate. So hot, excerpts were read on the Senate floor."

Sen. Dick Durbin reading from book: "'The intelligence then and now, however, showed no evidence of Iraqi complicity.'"

O'Donnell: "Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin."

Durbin: "This administration, hours after the attack from 9/11, decided that Iraq had to be our next target."

O'Donnell: "From Tenet's insider's view the White House's pushed for war on thin intelligence, moved too slowly on al-Qaeda warnings and made him a scapegoat. The White House disputes that and the State Department put out three pages of past Tenet quotes to undercut his claims."

Howard Fineman, NBC News analyst: "George Tenet's book puts the spotlight in exactly the wrong place, as far as the administration is concerned. The last thing they want to talk about right now is how we got into the war in Iraq."

O'Donnell: "But Tenet is also taking heat."

Roger Cressey, terrorism expert: "Where George can be rightfully criticized is that he has been silent up till now on the issue of Iraq."

O'Donnell: "An outraged group of former CIA officials sent a letter urging Tenet to donate book royalties to Iraq veterans and give back the Medal of Freedom he accepted from President Bush."

Tenet: "He gave me the medal because of the work of the men in CIA about terrorism and quite frankly I was proud for them."

O'Donnell: "And the President has not spoken publicly about Tenet's book. The White House would prefer to talk about the war today and down the line. Of course expect that veto from the President and then the White House and Congress getting back to work to find a way to pump more money into the war. Meredith."

Meredith Vieira: "Kelly O'Donnell thanks very much. Congressman John Murtha is a leading war critic as well as the chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Congressman, good morning to you sir."

[Rep. John Murtha]

Vieira: "As you just heard former CIA Director George Tenet has accused the administration of many things including rushing to war in Iraq based on thin intelligence. Now I know you had a close working relationship with Tenet. In the months leading up to the war, sir, did he ever express any of these concerns to you or other members of Congress, as far as you know?"

[Murtha]

Vieira: "But aren't these assertions a little late in coming, sir? If he had these concerns shouldn't he have aired them much earlier?"

[Murtha]

Vieira: "Well let's, let's look forward sir because there is a war funding bill that is gonna be before the President, that the, the Congress has handed him, and he has said he is going to veto it because it sets a timetable for the removal of troops from Iraq. So what is your plan when he does, indeed, veto this? What is your fallback plan?"

[Murtha]

Vieira: "Sir, over the weekend you made news on your own when you dropped the 'impeachment' word in reference to how Congress could influence the President. To some it sounded like a veiled threat. Is impeachment really on the table? Are you seriously considering it?"

Murtha: "I think the public is so frustrated with the uncompromising of this President. I think the public, I'm getting twice as many calls as I got just a few months ago about impeachment."

Vieira: "Are you seriously considering it sir?"

Murtha: "No I just think that's one of the options. The real option here is the power of the purse. We're gonna press the power of the purse. We've given the President everything in this Iraqi Accountability bill, that he's asked for. $4 billion more and we would hope he signs it. If he doesn't the leadership will sit down with him, we'll work out a compromise."

Vieira: "What about, what about our accountability to the people of Iraq, sir? If you truly believe that we created this mess in Iraq then what do we owe to its citizens now?"

Murtha: "Meredith it's not a matter of what we owe them. It's a matter of 61 percent of them say it's alright to kill Americans. There, there, we're caught in a civil war. We can't solve it militarily. It can only be done with international, diplomatic relations and we haven't done that. We haven't put a full court press on the diplomatic side. That's the big problem we face. The American people want them out, the Iraqis want them out, the world wants us out of Iraq. And it's, it's gonna happen. So the President better plan for redeployment or he's gonna have the kind of chaos that he's predicting."

Vieira: "Congressman John Murtha, as always, thanks so much for joining us."

Murtha: "Nice talking to you, Meredith."

Vieira: "You too."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.