Olbermann jousts with Salon's Greenwald on Obama FISA support
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday June 27, 2008

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Barack Obama has upset key elements of his base with his indication that he will support what critics say is a deeply flawed surveillance bill that would undermine Americans' constitutional rights.

The Democratic presidential candidates' support for an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has caused some contortions among progressive commentators seeking to justify Obama's decision while a few others are willing to criticize the Illinois senator for making what they say is the wrong choice.

The two sides of this debate have come into sharp relief in the last few days in a tete-a-tete between Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer and leading critic of the FISA deal, and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.

It started Wednesday night, when Olbermann praised Obama for "refusing to cower even to the left" by supporting FISA.

Greenwald pointed out that just a few monhts ago, Olbermann had referred to a similar FISA deal going through the Senate as a "textbook example of fascism." The biggest difference between February and now was that then Olbermann could slam President Bush, one of his favorite targets for scorn, whereas now in the cross-hairs was Obama, who generally garners nothing but praise.

"Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution," Greenwald wrote.

"Is that really what anyone wants -- transferring blind devotion from George Bush to Barack Obama?" he asked. "Are we hoping for a Fox News for Obama, that glorifies everything he says and whitewashes everything he does?"

Olbermann responded to the criticism in his own DailyKos diary. He said his praise for Obama relied on the analysis of the FISA bill from John Dean, a reformed Watergate figure turned Bush administration critic.

With that preamble out of the way, here goes. John said his reading of the revised FISA statute suggested it was so poorly constructed (or maybe so sublimely constructed) that it clearly did not preclude future criminal prosecution of the telecoms - it only stopped civil suits.

I have repeated his observation each night since. Maybe I didn't sell my conviction of its conclusiveness. I think John Dean is worth 25 Glenn Greenwalds (maybe 26 Keith Olbermanns).

Thus, as I phrased it on the air tonight, obviously Obama kicked the left in the teeth by supporting the bill. But anybody who got as hot about this as I did would prefer to see a President Obama prosecuting the telecoms criminally, instead of seeing a Senator Obama engender more "soft on terror" crap by casting a token vote in favor of civil litigation that isn't going to pass since so many other Democrats caved anyway. [...]

Seriously, there is little in the polls to suggest McCain has anything to run with other than terror.... So why hand them a brick to hit him with - Obama Voted Against FISA - if voting Aye enhances his chances of getting himself his own Attorney General to prosecute FISA?

Greenwald responded in his own post Friday, first off clarifying that he doesn't "consider Keith Olbermann to be The Enemy or, comparatively speaking, even a particularly bad influence to be targeted." That being said, Olbermann was still wrong on FISA and Obama, Greenwald wrote.

In his Daily Kos response, Olbermann -- just as he has done on his show repeatedly ever since Obama announced his support for the bill -- also suggested that Obama is harboring a Secret Benovelent Plan that he isn't telling anyone about whereby he is supporting the FISA bill so that he can prosecute the telecoms criminally once he's in office. [...]

There are likely many reasons for confining immunity to civil liability -- including the heightened difficulty of proving criminal intent and, most importantly, the fact that Bush, on his way out, can pardon telecoms from criminal but not civil liability. So it's far from certain that Obama -- even if he did have a Secret Plan criminally to prosecute telecoms once in office -- would even be able to do so. If Bush pardons everyone connected to his illegal spying program, as many have speculated he might, then Obama's Secret Plan -- even if it existed -- would be instanteously extinguished. That's why these telecom lawsuits are the only real avenue left to ensure accountability and obtain a legal ruling on what was done.

Olbermann had not issued another rebuttal as of early Friday afternoon.