Fireworks erupted on the set of "Morning Joe" Friday, after MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell took umbrage with former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen's claim that President Obama is inviting a domestic terrorist attack.
Things started off rocky after Thiessen -- in the process of justifying the coercive counter-terrorism techniques used under the Bush administration and condemning Obama for "eliminating the CIA's interrogation program" -- insisted that his former boss was required to essentially start from scratch.
"You gotta think back to the period after 9/11," he said. "We didn't even know who hit us. We didn't know that Khalid Sheik Mohammad was the mastermind of 9/11 or the operational commander of al Qaeda. And then we started rounding up these terrorists..."
O'Donnell responded quickly, barking out his bewilderment with Thiessen's assertion that there was no pre-9/11 warning that an attack was coming.
"Isn't it true that the president you worked for invited the first attack by having no idea what was going on with al Qaeda? You just admitted that when you were hit on 9/11, you just said, 'We didn't know who hit us'. You were told who was going to hit you before 9/11. And your administration invited the first attack, for which you should live in shame."
Those charges were some of the milder in the heated exchange. Later in the segment, O'Donnell told Thiessen that he was hopelessly ill-equipped to talk about terrorism or torture.
"Marc, I'm wondering about your own personal experience with torture. I know you grew up in the richest zip code in America, in the Upper East Side. You went to the only boarding school in all of Connecticut that I know of that has its own golf course... And then you went to Vasser. And like all the torture-mongers in the Bush White House, the Cheney family included, you never served a day in the military. Never considered that. I'm wondering, with that background, what is it that gives you an expertise on torture? What makes you love it so much?"
Thiessen replied: "First of all, one, it is not torture. Second of all, [the New Yorker's] Jane Mayer said the other day I never had a security clearance... I had a security clearance. I was read into the CIA program. When President Bush did a speech in December 2006 to reveal this program, I was taken into a secure room in the National Security Council. I was given access to all of the intelligence this program produced. And I actually met with the actual interrogators who interviewed Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and got the information to stop attacks."
What's remarkable about the exchange and why it's worth posting, is that each party thinks it got the better of the other. Liz Cheney's group Keep America Safe is trumpeting the video on its YouTube site. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin did much the same. But in an email to the Huffington Post this morning, a Democratic Party official highlighted it as a "great segment to post."
It's an illustration of how dug in both sides of the terrorism/national security debates have become - and how overly zealous the conversation can be. Keep in mind, that it took just three days into the Obama presidency for Thiessen to declare that this president was "proving to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office".
Though host Joe Scarborough joked about O'Donnell's "meds" before going to a commercial break, he tweeted after the show tweeted: "The best part of Lawrence O' Donnell's rant, is that when we went to break, Lawrence broke out in a huge smile. 'It's what I do best.'"