Al Franken's appearance with Lawrence: Late last night, we found ourselves chastised by the gods.
First, though, let's channel the late John Lennon. Let's try to imagine something:
At this time of moral stampede, have you ever imagined a possibility? Have you ever imagined the possibility that much of what we liberals say is just silly scripted cant, as is the case Over There?
At this time of moral stampede, you ought to consider that possibility. We think of what happened just last night when Al Franken was Lawrence O'Donnell's guest.
Senator Franken came on The Last Word to say that Jeff Sessions has perjured himself. As became clear long ago during some of his greatest meltdowns, this general topic is right up Lawrence's alley.
The nonsense began with the throw from Rachel. Here's what the cable stars said:
O'DONNELL (3/7/17): Hey Rachel, we have an open invitation to Jeff Sessions to come on the program. He has not made it yet, but tonight we do have Senator Al Franken, whose question created this gigantic Jeff Sessions controversy.Sad! "As if we don't have a record of it, as if we can't all check it," Rachel said.
Is it perjury? We'll ask Senator Franken if he believes it's perjury, we will roll the tape of exactly what was said. Which today, as you know, in the Judiciary Committee, they had a fight, the chairman arguing about what was actually said in the video where Al Franken asked that question—
MADDOW: As if we don't have a record of it, as if we can't all check it—
O'DONNELL: Yes, and in the hearings, Senator Franken said to the chairman, "Show—just check the video."
This was Rachel's way of suggesting that the videotape interprets itself. Rachel Maddow was talking down to us liberal speak-chuckers again!
That said, we liberals seem to love that treatment, or so last night's program suggested. Lawrence started with a monologue about lying. Along with the evils of Mormonism, it's one of Lawrence's favorite topics. The topic has led to some of his most famous meltdowns.
Soon, Lawrence was priming the pump. "We've already seen a national security adviser forced to resign because of lying," he said. "We now have an attorney general caught in an apparent lie in his Senate confirmation hearing by Senator Al Franken, who will be joining us in a moment."
So far, Sessions only stood accused of an apparent lie. Much later, after much more than "a moment," that changed when Franken appeared.
Lawrence played videotape of the full exchange on February 10 between Franken and Sessions. After we got to watch the tape, this first Q-and-A occurred:
O'DONNELL (3/7/17): Was Jeff Sessions' response to you perjury?This is very serious stuff, Franken said, even as he and Lawrence treated it like a joke.
FRANKEN: It is hard for me to draw any other conclusion given the letter that he wrote. We asked him, the Democrats on the committee, asked him why he didn't, in the seven weeks after he misled us there, why he didn't correct it. And the response is absurd.
He said, "Having considered my answer responsive and no one having suggested otherwise, there was no need for a supplemental answer." We, of course, didn't know he was giving us misinformation, so of course we wouldn't have asked for a supplemental response.
Look, this is very, very serious stuff. He's the second administration official who has lied about contact with the Russians, and this all goes to the fact that the Russians interfered with our elections.
Why do we offer that assessment? Consider what Franken had said.
Had Sessions engaged in perjury? According to Franken, it became hard to avoid that conclusion given the letter Sessions now sent to the committee at the start of this week. Forget what Sessions said at the hearing last month! The letter he sent the committee this week really revealed his crime!
What was so incriminating about Sessions' letter? Below, you see the part of the letter that really tipped Franken off. In this passage, Sessions was explaining why he hadn't supplemented his original testimony sooner:
"Having considered my answer [at the hearing] responsive, and no one having suggested otherwise, there was no need for a supplemental answer."
According to Sessions, he had considered his original answer to be responsive to Franken's question. Since no one had suggested otherwise, Sessions had seen no need to supplement what he'd said.
Franken ridiculed this statement, which had pretty much convinced him of Sessions' perjury. How could we have told him his answer wasn't responsive? the funnyman/senator thoughtfully asked. "We didn't know he was giving us misinformation" [at the original hearing].
Franken's point made perfect sense, except for the fact that it didn't. Might we offer a tiny guess as to what Sessions actually meant?
Did Sessions mean that no one on the Senate committee had "suggested otherwise"—had suggested that he supplement what his testimony? Or did he possibly mean that no one on his own staff had made such a suggestion?
We don't know, and neither does Franken. But so what? In line with the law of the moral stampede, Franken only considered the interpretation which convicted his target of crime.
(For Sessions' full letter, click here. The meaning of the sentence Franken quoted isn't clarified.)
This is what precisely happens at times of moral stampede. Such stampedes tend to make tribal players immoral, indignant and dumb.
Throughout the interview, Franken railed about that "absurd" statement by Sessions. With Lawrence eagerly egging him on, he kept saying that SEssions' letter had convinced him of Sessions' guilt:
O'DONNELL: In Jeff Sessions' letter to the committee, he said, "My answer was correct." Now that means that, if he was lying in his answer, then he's lying again in his letter?Poor Franken! The letter insulted his intelligence, or so he kept insisting. Sadly, his specific complaint about the letter doesn't exactly make sense.
FRANKEN: Yes. The letter really is, just sort of insults your intelligence in a way that is just mind boggling. That's why I say there's no other conclusion that can you can come to other than that he was lying and was committing perjury.
O`DONNELL: So just to clarify your own thinking on Jeff Sessions` testimony, you were given reason to suspect that there was perjury once it came out that he indeed had contacts with Russian officials, but it's his letter to the committee, combined with his testimony, that then leads you to the actual conclusion that he committed perjury?
FRANKEN: Yes. I can't come up with any other conclusion, but I would like him to come and testify before the committee, before—so he can at least explain this, but this letter is just ridiculous and insulting to anyone's intelligence.
Late last night, the gods of Olympus came to us a dream. "What ever made you say, in the past, that Franken is smart?" they said.
The worst thing is, the gods weren't angry at us last night; they said they were just disappointed. Somehow, it always seems worse when they take that tack.
Why did we think that Franken was smart? From our vantage point in this time of stampede, it's a question we can't really answer.