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Excerpts come from a June 11, 2008 Countdown with Keith Olbermann show
OLBERMANN: Time now to call in George Washington University law professor and constitutional law expert: Jonathan Turley.
Good evening, Jon.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I‘ve often argued here that even if you think the words aren‘t going to lead to any action, say the words anyway, simply to get them on the record for history, and simply because nothing has ever changed from bad to good in this country without somebody first saying—this is bad. Assess the importance of what Dennis Kucinich did last night.
TURLEY: You know, it is very important. The fact is that this is not supposed to happen the way it happened in the last seven years. The framers, I think, would have been astonished by the absolute passivity if not collusion of the Democrats in protecting President Bush from impeachment. I mean, they created a system that was essentially idiot-proof and God knows we put that to a test in the past years.
But, I don‘t think they ever anticipated that so many members of the opposition would stand quietly in the face of clear presidential crimes. It has many of us who study the Constitution quite worried that we have a real crisis here. This is not something that really was supposed to happen. It was not something that one would predict.
OLBERMANN: This is the list that he presented last night—a remarkably lengthy and thorough record of the high crimes and misdemeanors. It‘s just a cascade really. Did Kucinich successfully make his case?
TURLEY: I think he‘s made his case. I mean, frankly, some of these claims are not really impeachable offenses. Like for example, it‘s not impeachable to be negligent. If that was the case, we‘d lose half that people that sat in the Oval Office. But there are plenty of crimes there. This is a target-rich environment.
What‘s really disturbing for many of us is that it takes a real effort for Democrats to walk from the floor to their offices and not trip over crimes. I mean, they are all over the record, from destruction of evidence, to illegal surveillance, to unlawful torture programs. They‘re all over the place.
And what‘s amazing is that the president is hiding in plain view. He hasn‘t really denied the elements of these offenses. So, all that is lacking is political will.
But that doesn‘t mean that suddenly the Democrats are going to get principled and say—my God, we took an oath, and we need to fulfill it regardless of the outcome. But it does mean that at least one member, and they‘re actually more than one, are really calling their colleagues to the floor and saying—it‘s time to pony up. It‘s time to answer the public of whether you stand for the Constitution and against its abridgement.
OLBERMANN: Have we ever seen a situation like this before, Jon? Obviously, 1868 and Andrew Johnson, there were constitutional issues but that was a political box that he was squeezed into, various laws come by that said he couldn‘t dismiss anybody who worked basically for the government. He violated those laws, they impeached him. He was kind of set up even though he‘s probably was not a very good president.
Clearly, the Clinton impeachment, whatever legalities were involved in that, that was to some degree a setup, too. This is different in that it‘s a political issue again, but it‘s not the politics of impeaching somebody, it‘s the politics of not impeaching somebody who seems to clearly constitutionally deserve it.
TURLEY: Yes. That is the most remarkable if not bizarre aspect of all of this—that President Bush‘s allies in the last seven years have been the Democratic leadership and the Democratic members that have repeatedly stepped in to protect him, not just from impeachment, but serious investigation. And it‘s part of a very cynical political strategy. It has succeeded.
The Democrats know that they can retain the Congress if they just let this guy, you know, sort of ripen on the vine. And that they are afraid that there could be a backlash if they try to impeach. But of course, that‘s literally all politics and no principle. They took an oath in the House of Representatives. And the most important thing they have to do as House members is to stand firm in the face of presidential crimes.
And I think history will be very, very severe, not just for Speaker Pelosi, but all of the Democrats, of how they could let this come to pass where they stood silent and did nothing in the face of such compelling criminal record.
OLBERMANN: Well, clearly they are going to let it come to pass in this way. So, that begs the question—is there anything to do after January 20th of next year? Is there any mechanism or precedent for dealing with the presidency that has already ended?
TURLEY: Well, there is a lot that can be done. I mean, first of all, the new administration can certainly reverse some of the more outrageous acts of this administration with regard to torture, unlawful surveillance, the misuse of the FISA accord, and misuse of the states secrets privilege. All those things can be done.
One thing that they may have to consider which would be interesting since they—it could be the Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, but they could consider bringing back the special counsel law that they got rid of after the Clinton administration.
What we‘ve seen with Attorney General Mukasey and his predecessors is that the system just hasn‘t worked, that you don‘t have attorney—when the attorney general doesn‘t have the principle and independents to allow investigations, to submit evidence to grand juries, the system literally shuts down. And we may have to re-examine whether we need a special counsel that could be called upon on such occasions.
OLBERMANN: Constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley—as always, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
TURLEY: Thank you, Keith.