Olbermann Bolsters 'Judicial Smackdown' of NSA Spying on 'Our' Phone Calls

On Thursday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann bolstered the ruling by Federal Judge Ann Diggs Taylor against the Bush administration's controversial NSA spying program that involves warrantless monitoring of international phone calls when one participant is a terrorist suspect. Referring to the ruling as a "judicial smackdown" and a "stunning ruling" against the program, Olbermann repeatedly referred to the NSA program as monitoring "our" phone calls or "our" emails. The MSNBC host further contended that since the program was revealed, "anybody who had actually read the Constitution" believed it would eventually be ruled as "patently illegal." Olbermann's guest discussing the topic was liberal law professor Jonathan Turley, who labeled Judge Taylor's ruling as a "very thoughtful opinion" and called efforts by conservatives to discredit her as a liberal Carter appointee as "distasteful." By contrast, CNN and FNC featured guests who questioned Judge Taylor's judicial wisdom. (Transcript follows)

Olbermann teased the segment, referring to surveillance of "our" phone calls and emails, and mocking the administration's claims that the NSA program had helped stop terrorists: "Unconstitutional: A federal judge in Detroit orders Bush administration eavesdropping on our calls and emails halted immediately. The administration appeals, invoking the purported liquid bomb plot, claiming there is proof the wiretaps stopped terrorists, and the proof is that the administration says it stopped terrorists."

As the Countdown host introduced the show's lead story on the JonBenet Ramsey case, Olbermann previewed the NSA story, again referring to "our" phone calls and emails: "Good evening from Los Angeles. It is not the day's most important news. Clearly, that would be a stunning ruling out of a Michigan court concluding that George Bush and his Attorney General and his National Security Agency violated the Constitution by illegally intercepting our phone calls and our emails."

After two more plugs, Olbermann introduced the segment: "From the moment in December when the New York Times first revealed the existence of the government's secret warrantless surveillance program, nearly anybody who had actually read the Constitution at some point believed that it would be only a matter of time until a court of law ruled such spying to be patently illegal. Our fourth story in the Countdown tonight, the matter of time took just 35 weeks. The Bush administration's first attempt to politicize today's judicial smackdown taking mere minutes."

After Olbermann's opening question to Turley in which he referred to "domestic spying" with "many fangs," during Turley's answer, the liberal law professor brought up the "difficult implication" that President Bush "could well have committed a federal crime ... 30 times."

Olbermann finally brought up the fact that Judge Taylor was a Carter appointee as he characterized conservatives as "making hay" out of her history, which ended up serving to queue up Turley to condemn the questioning of Judge Taylor's ideology as "distasteful" and giving his view that her ruling was a "very thoughtful opinion."

Olbermann: "The response to this from the White House, there's nothing of course like claiming you have secret proof that you stopped all sorts of bad things by rewriting the Constitution, but the conservatives are already making hay out of the fact that Judge Taylor was an appointee of President Carter. Where does the case go next legally? And in following it, do we have to follow the personal politics of the judges? Or are there any judges who are just judges anymore?"

Turley: "Well, that's what's really distasteful, you know. This is not the first judge to rule against the administration. But every time a judge rules against the administration, they're either too Democratic or they're too tall or too short, or they're Pisces. I mean, it, you can, all this spin, this effort to personalize it is really doing a great injustice to our system. If you look at this opinion, it's a very thoughtful opinion. The problem is not the judge. The problem is a lack of authority. You know, when Gonzales says I've got something back in my safe, and if you could see it, you'd all agree with me, well, unless there's a federal statute in his safe, then it's not going to make a difference."

Olbermann concluded the segment seeming to show disagreement with the idea that Congress could pass a law that would be constitutional explicitly giving the President the authority to engage in the warrantless NSA surveillance in question. After Turley argued that in order to discredit Judge Taylor's ruling that "you need to show me a statute, you need to show me part of the Constitution," Olbermann chimed in: "And the Constitution, not just a, say, Arlen Specter-sponsored law that would permit this according to the Congress, correct?"

Turley argued that Specter's bill was an "absurd" bill: "Well, if Specter goes forward with that absurd bill that he wrote with Dick Cheney, I would be surprised. I mean, if they actually move this into a secret court after a judge found the President was acting unlawfully, it will be the whitewash of the century."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the August 17 Countdown show:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Unconstitutional: A federal judge in Detroit orders Bush administration eavesdropping on our calls and emails halted immediately. The administration appeals, invoking the purported liquid bomb plot, claiming there is proof the wiretaps stopped terrorists, and the proof is that the administration says it stopped terrorists."
...

Olbermann, introducing the lead story on JonBenet Ramsey: "Good evening from Los Angeles. It is not the day's most important news. Clearly, that would be a stunning ruling out of a Michigan court concluding that George Bush and his Attorney General and his National Security Agency violated the Constitution by illegally intercepting our phone calls and our emails. We will cover that in depth in a moment. ..."
...

Olbermann, before commercial break at 8:12 p.m.: "To the hard news of the day, and it certainly is going down hard at the White House. The Bush administration's warrant-free wiretap program, a federal judge says it has to stop, it has to stop now, analysis on the import of a ruling of unconstitutionality with Jonathan Turley."
...

Olbermann, during commercial break at 8:13 p.m.: "The federal judge says the Bush administration is breaking the law, warrantless wiretaps illegal, unconstitutional. The White House says it has proof the judge is wrong. The proof's a secret. That's next, this is Countdown."
...

Olbermann: "From the moment in December when the New York Times first revealed the existence of the government's secret warrantless surveillance program, nearly anybody who had actually read the Constitution at some point believed that it would be only a matter of time until a court of law ruled such spying to be patently illegal. Our fourth story in the Countdown tonight, the matter of time took just 35 weeks. The Bush administration's first attempt to politicize today's judicial smackdown taking mere minutes. Federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruling in Detroit today, becoming the first to strike down the National Security Agency's program, ordering it stopped at once, although how fast that is is yet to be determined, calling it an unconstitutional violation of privacy and free speech rights. Quoting Judge Taylor in her 43-page opinion, 'Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution.' Within the hour, though, unnamed senior White House officials pointing out to NBC News, that the ruling comes just one week after the purported London bomb plot in which they claim telephone surveillance was used to gather intelligence. By name, the press secretary, Mr. Snow, also evoking the British arrests in a written statement. Quote, 'Last week America and the world received a stark reminder that terrorists are still plotting to attack our country and kill innocent people. ... We could not disagree more with this ruling.' The Justice Department meanwhile indicating it will do all it can to fight the ruling."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department: "Today a district court judge in Michigan ruled that the program was unlawful. We disagree with the decision, respectfully disagree with the decision of the judge, and we have appealed the decision, and we, there is a stay in place. And so we will continue to utilize the program to ensure that America is safer."

Olbermann: "Joining me now to assess the impact of the ruling today, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University. Good evening, Jonathan."

Jonathan Turley, George Washington University: "Thanks. Hi, Keith."

Olbermann: "Domestic spying by the Bush administration has many fangs. Is this specific to the wiretapping of the international calls and emails? Or is it broader than that?"

Turley: "... The real tough question is what we would do about it. If a court of appeals upholds this judge, it means that the President could well have committed a federal crime not once, but 30 times. And so that's the difficult implication."

Olbermann: "The response to this from the White House, there's nothing of course like claiming you have secret proof that you stopped all sorts of bad things by rewriting the Constitution, but the conservatives are already making hay out of the fact that Judge Taylor was an appointee of President Carter. Where does the case go next legally? And in following it, do we have to follow the personal politics of the judges? Or are there any judges who are just judges anymore?"

Turley: "Well, that's what's really distasteful, you know. This is not the first judge to rule against the administration. But every time a judge rules against the administration, they're either too Democratic or they're too tall or too short, or they're Pisces. I mean, it, you can, all this spin, this effort to personalize it is really doing a great injustice to our system. If you look at this opinion, it's a very thoughtful opinion. The problem is not the judge. The problem is a lack of authority. You know, when Gonzales says I've got something back in my safe, and if you could see it, you'd all agree with me, well, unless there's a federal statute in his safe, then it's not going to make a difference."

Olbermann: "The administration tried forever to get this suit dismissed on the ruse of state secrets, but, Jonathan, do we really think the country would dissolve into a bowl of jello if the courts threw out the administration's national security rationale for wiretapping? Have we ever noticed this in the past when previous administrations have cited national security of the most urgent import? Do you recall the country ever going out of business or the safety of the citizens every just vanishing?"

Turley: "Well, you know, there is this appearance of 'let's keep fear alive,' you know, and, you know, how we read the Constitution will depend upon how close we are to the London arrests. That's really immaterial. I mean, in a country like ours, it is as important, if not more important, how we do things, as it is what we do. And we can't uphold the system of law, the rule of law, if we violate it. And, you know, here I think one of the most important things this judge did was to say, look, I'm looking at whether you have authority to do this. And I can do that without looking at all of these secret documents you're referring to, you need to show me a statute, you need to show me part of the Constitution. And I think she was absolutely correct in that."

Olbermann: "And the Constitution, not just a, say, Arlen Specter-sponsored law that would permit this according to the Congress, correct?"

Turley: "Well, if Specter goes forward with that absurd bill that he wrote with Dick Cheney, I would be surprised. I mean, if they actually move this into a secret court after a judge found the President was acting unlawfully, it will be the whitewash of the century."

Olbermann: "It hasn't been a long century yet, so we'll see. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, as always, sir, great thanks for your time."

Turley: "Thanks."