NBC's Lauer to Cheney: You're the 'Most Divisive Political Figure in This Country in a Century'
On Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer began a hostile interview with Dick Cheney by running through various derisive labels for the former Vice President: 'You've been called 'controversial' and 'divisive.' Some people have called you the most divisive political figure in this country in a century.' Cheney quipped: 'You left out Darth Vader.'
Later, Lauer interrogated Cheney on interrogation tactics used on terror suspects: 'If an American citizen were to be taken into captivity in Iran, for example, and the government of Iran....Would it be okay for the Iranian government to waterboard that American citizen?' When Cheney rejected such an action, Lauer replied: 'So why was it okay for us to use what most people would say was torture against terror suspects?'
Concluding that line of questioning, Lauer asserted: 'if you were to conduct a poll in this country right now and ask people, 'Is waterboarding torture?', I think the vast majority of people would say it is.'
At the end of the contentious interview, Lauer declared: 'Mr. Cheney, thanks for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.' However, as NBC's camera panned out of the interview, it perfectly framed a protest sign (from Amnesty International) held up in the crowd outside of the Today show studio: 'Torture is a Crime: Investigate Cheney.'
Here are the key elements of Lauer's August 30 exchange with Cheney:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: And Today exclusive, Dick Cheney was vice president during eight of the most eventful and tumultuous years in this nation's history. Now he's written a memoir that he says will make heads explode in Washington. His take on President Bush, other top White House officials, and on being one of the most divisive and controversial figures in history. He's talking about it all in a live in-studio interview today
7:09AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: Now our exclusive interview with the former Vice President Dick Cheney, his highly anticipated new book, 'In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,' is being released today. And we're very pleased to have Dick Cheney with us in the studio this morning. Vice President Cheney, it's good to see you.
DICK CHENEY: Good to be here, Matt.
LAUER: You have been called a lot of things over the years. You've been called 'skillful,' 'dynamic.' You've been called 'controversial' and 'divisive.' Some people have called you the most divisive political figure in this country in a century. Do you think it's all political, or do you think there's something about your personality, your demeanor, that inspires animosity in your critics?
CHENEY: Well, I can't speak for them, Matt. You're right, you left out Darth Vader.
LAUER: Enhanced interrogation techniques: In your book, you state bluntly you have no regrets about being in favor of things like waterboarding – I think you say even if circumstances were the same today you'd make the same decisions....If an American citizen were to be taken into captivity in Iran, for example, and the government of Iran were to look at that person and say, 'We think you're a spy for the U.S. or you're here to carry out a covert operation. Would it be okay for the Iranian government to waterboard that American citizen?
CHENEY: Well, we probably would object to it.
LAUER: On the grounds that it's torture?
CHENEY: On the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens. And that we do everything we can to protect our citizens and to put them through a process that we think is appropriate.
LAUER: So why was it okay for us to use what most people would say was torture against terror suspects?
CHENEY: Well, remember, first of all, these were not American citizens. We weren't dealing with American citizens in the enhanced interrogation program. Secondly, it was people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, there were a handful, two or three, for example, that actually got waterboarded. Third, we had good reason to believe they had information that we could only get from them and that they knew more than anybody else.
LAUER: But if the government of Iran were capture someone and say, 'We have reason to believe that you're a spy or you're carrying out an operation that could be damaging to our country, would you object or would you say they did what they had to do to get the information they needed at the time?
CHENEY: Well, I think we would object because we wouldn't expect an American citizen to be operating that way. When you're dealing with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, for example, a man who was the self-admitted mastermind of 9/11, killed 3,000 Americans. And at a time when we had very little knowledge and understanding about Al Qaeda and what they were doing. And after we'd gone through a lot of other procedures and interrogation efforts, then at the end of that process, he was subjected to the program. It was very carefully supervised. None of the techniques used were things that we hadn't already used on our own people in training.
LAUER: You know, though, if you were to conduct a poll in this country right now and ask people is waterboarding torture, I think the vast majority of people would say it is.
LAUER: Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney, thanks for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.
CHENEY: Well, Matt, I've enjoyed it.
LAUER: Thank you. And the book is called 'In My Time' – it's out today. We're back in a moment. This is Today on NBC.
[CAMERA SHOT OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PROTEST SIGN OUTSIDE STUDIO: Torture is a Crime: Investigate Cheney.]
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.