Matthews again mischaracterized warrantless-wiretapping debate, this time in discussion with Liddy, his "go-to guy for wiretapping"


On MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews again falsely suggested that critics of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program are opposed to all wiretapping of terrorist suspects. In fact, critics have accused the Bush administration of violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by conducting surveillance of U.S. citizens and legal residents without obtaining a warrant.

On the August 17 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews continued his track record of misrepresenting the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, during a discussion with his "go-to guy for wiretapping," radio host G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy was convicted on charges of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping in connection with the Watergate break-in in 1972, which Liddy helped orchestrate through his position on the re-election campaign of President Richard Nixon.

During the discussion of that day's decision by a federal judge striking down the warrantless surveillance program, Matthews asked Liddy, "Why do you think wiretapping is important to catching terrorists?" suggesting falsely that the legality of wiretapping in general was in question. As Media Matters for America has noted, critics of the program assert that the Bush administration is violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by conducting surveillance of U.S. citizens and legal residents without obtaining a warrant. The rest of the interview focused on Liddy's personal experiences, including his purported wiretapping of the warden in the prison in which he was incarcerated.

As Media Matters has documented, Matthews has repeatedly made misleading statements about the warrantless wiretapping program since its existence was revealed in a December 2005 New York Times report. For example, immediately following President Bush's January 31 State of the Union address, Matthews praised the "strong statements" Bush made in defense of the administration's warrantless surveillance and repeated without correction Bush's suggestion that, as Matthews phrased it, "we could have caught two of the Al Qaeda terrorists" involved on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "if we'd had access to this kind of surveillance ability." In fact, according to the 9-11 Commission, it was bureaucratic entanglements -- not a lack of intelligence -- that prevented law-enforcement officials from capturing the two hijackers. Matthews also claimed the dispute over the surveillance program has been fought "between those Democratic and Republican aisles," even though a number of Republicans and conservatives have criticized the program.

From the August 17 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Up next, the Hardballers fight over national security. Nixon White House veteran and radio talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy, he knows something about wiretaps. And Democratic strategist Jenny Backus will be here. This is Hardball, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Gordon Liddy, wiretapping, that's why we brought you in, you're the go-to guy for wiretapping.

LIDDY: Yes, I am.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that the court ruling today by the judge -- the federal judge in Detroit is going to stop the administration from surveillance of bad guys?

LIDDY: No. I think it'll be appealed. And I think that the decision will probably be overturned.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it's a good decision to overturn it?

LIDDY: Yes. I would overturn it.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think wiretapping is important to catching terrorists?

LIDDY: Well, terrorists have to communicate just like everybody else, and if you can intercept their communications, and understand what they're trying to do, you can frustrate their efforts.

BACKUS: But you can still wiretap under FISA. I mean, that's the whole gist of this case.

MATTHEWS: Explain.

BACKUS: There's a law out there on the books that the Bush administration doesn't like. And it says that if you want to go wiretap someone for national security, you can do that. You have a special secret court to go into to get permission, and then you can go ahead and wiretap whoever you want if it's for national security. So that's not going to stop, and Democrats are for that. The problem was the Bush administration said, "It's a law on the books, and we don't agree with it. We're going to go above it and beyond it."

LIDDY: The problem is time. You know, you uncover something, you get a laptop computer, it's hot, you've got information on it, but the time you go to FISA and get the permission, it's too late.

BACKUS: But isn't there things we can do within the law and within the system to make it more -- you know --

MATTHEWS: He's not going to agree with you.

BACKUS: Oh, he will. He will, he will.

MATTHEWS: Stop this malarkey. You're trying to get Gordon Liddy to agree with you that wiretapping is wrong.

BACKUS: Come on. A girl has got to dream.

MATTHEWS: I don't think we're getting anywhere with this guy.

LIDDY: I actually wiretapped one of the prisons that I was in.

MATTHEWS: How'd you do that?

LIDDY: It's easy. In prisons, all labor is done by prison labor, and that includes maintaining the telephones. All I had to do was make a deal with the other guys.

MATTHEWS: Who were you bugging?

LIDDY: The warden.

MATTHEWS: What did you find out?

LIDDY: I found out who was calling the Bureau of Prisons headquarters and backstabbing who, who was making out with somebody else's wife. All kinds of things.

MATTHEWS: What did you get for this info, this intel?

LIDDY: Well, I took that information --

BACKUS: Five more years?

LIDDY: I burglarized his office, and I got papers which I Xeroxed on his own Xerox machine. Then I went to the Yale Law School people, they provided me with research, I sued the Federal Bureau of Prison, I got the permission of the court to try the case myself as a former prosecutor, I tried it, I won, and I defeated the Bureau of Prisons.

MATTHEWS: What are you, The Shawshank Redemption?

LIDDY: No, no, no.

MATTHEWS: We'll be right back with Gordon Liddy telling all about his escapades inside, and Jenny Backus, the young child learning how to do it. You're watching Hardball, only on MSNBC. What a show.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Chris Matthews
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