by D. Cupples | Monday, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann dropped his pompoms and attempted to re-reverse himself by doing a "special comment" about Barack Obama's recent reversal on FISA (Crooks & Liars has the video and transcript). Mr. Olbermann made two major mistakes:
1) He said that Sen. Obama has a second chance to fight FISA
2) He indicated that he still believes that Obama has a secret plan to criminally prosecute Telecom folks even if they get immunity from civil suits.
First, there is no second chance to fight the new FISA bill, which the House has already passed and the Senate will likely vote on next week. The numbers needed to defeat the bill just aren't in the Senate: we've known this for some time.
The U.S. Senate is nearly 50% Republican, and most Republicans support the new FISA bill and Telecom Amnesty.
That and too many Senate Democrats (like Jay Rockefeller and Claire McCaskill) have sided with Republicans on FISA and Telecom Amnesty.
When the FISA bill comes to a vote, chances are great that the Senate will pass it -- however Sen. Obama votes, whatever words he speaks.
The only real chance to effectively fight the FISA bill existed before the House passed it. [The House has far a larger proportion of Democrats than the Senate does.]
Sen. Obama's chance to really fight FISA evaporated on or about June 20, when 94 House Democrats changed their mind and voted to pass the FISA bill. That was around the same time that Sen. Obama publicly voiced support for the bill.
If Sen. Obama had been truly committed to defeating the FISA bill, then he would have used his popularity to pressure House Democrats to vote against the bill.
Now, all Sen. Obama can do is vote against and speak against the FISA bill. This might make some of his supporters believe that he really meant to fight it all along -- except those supporters who are actually aware of the current composition of the Senate and House.
That's why I consider Mr. Olbermann's idea that Sen. Obama will get a "second chance" on FISA next week to be purely fictional.
The other mistake that Mr. Olbermann made was trying to perpetuate the myth that Sen. Obama had planned to let FISA pass then later go after Telecom folks on criminal grounds.
Sen. Obama is smart enough to know that President Bush has the power to pardon all Telecom folks who end up targeted for criminal prosecution -- even before they go to trial. President Bush knows this, because his father (in 1992) pardoned a few guys involved in the Iran-Contra scandal before they went to trial.
It wouldn't be that hard to arrange. The current President Bush has a very compliant Justice Department. If FISA passes without providing immunity from criminal prosecution, President Bush could get the Justice Department 1) to open investigations into a list of Telecom folks, 2) to issue quick indictments, and 3) to schedule trial dates.
Then, President Bush could simply swoop in and pardon the defendants.
Even if President Bush's pardoning powers weren't an obstacle to effective criminal prosecution, Sen. Obama is too smart to let a constitutionally disastrous FISA bill become law on the mere hope that he could start criminally prosecuting Telecom folks come January.
That would involve enormous risks -- especially with government accountability and fundamental rights at stake -- because Sen. Obama might not win in November. In that case, John McCain (who likes FISA and Telecom Amnesty) would be left to push for accountability and carry out the criminal prosecutions.
I suspect that Sen. Obama -- someone who has taught Constitutional Law for years -- places too high a value on our constitutional rights to roll the dice like that.
That's why Mr. Olbermann's criminal-prosecution ideas seems to have been pulled out of Mr. Olbermann's habitually flaring nostrils.
Below is some background info, for those coming in on the second act.
In January, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann capital-H Hated the Bush Administration's attempt to 1) expand its domestic spying powers, and 2) grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that had broken the law (likely against their lawyers' advice) while helping the Bush Adminsitration spy on Americans.
Mr. Olbermann repeatedly, intensely and rightly railed against these things and against the Bush Administration on his show. (See video here.)
In June, Barack Obama publicly supported a new FISA bill that would 1) expand the Bush Administration's domestic spying powers, and 2) grant retroactive immunity to telecoms.
Did Mr. Olbermann intensely rail against Sen. Obama's reversal on FISA -- the way he had railed against the Bush Administration? Absolutely not.
Instead, Mr. Olbermann meekly -- and without any intensity -- said that he was "confused" by Sen. Obama's reversal on FISA. Then, Mr. Olbermann concocted a rickety defense: that Sen. Obama was secretly planning to let FISA and Telecom Amnesty become law then later prosecute Telecom folks criminally. (See video here.)
In short, Mr. Olbermann continued leading cheers, though Sen. Obama had committed what should have been a deal breaker for Mr. Olbermann.
Salon's Glenn Greenwald (and others) took Mr. Olbermann to task for his reversal and explained the inanity of Mr. Olbermann's imaginary, double-secret plan -- essentially delivering a humiliating knock-out punch that left Mr. Olbermann's pompoms and pleated skirt blood stained.
That seems to be what prompted Mr. Olbermann to do his "special comment" on Monday about Sen. Obama's reversal on FISA.
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