Video: Ken Starr calls out Liz Cheney's ad campaign

  1. Closed captioning of: Ken Starr calls out Liz Cheney's ad campaign

    >>> restart peace talks.

    >>> liz cheney , daughter of vice president dick cheney , launched a new public campaign she says is designed to expose the american lawyers who are defending terrorism suspects. the problem is it's a constitutional guarantee that sets our system apart from our enemies, and her stand has former family friends speaking out against it. the story tonight from nbc's andrea mitchell .

    >> reporter: the president and his attorney general are being targeted by liz cheney 's advocacy group . in a web ad that sparked cries of mccarthyism.

    >> who are these government officials? eric holder will only name two. why the secrecy behind the other seven? whose values do they share? tell eric holder , americans have a right to know the identity of the al qaeda 7.

    >> reporter: cheney is challenging the judgment of the lawyers for representing terror detainees.

    >> someone advocating for the release of terrorists, somebody who said military commissions are kangaroo courts, that kind of person is unlikely to be able to put in place the policies that are necessary to keep us safe.

    >> reporter: now cheney is under fire from none other than former clinton prosecutor ken starr , now dean at pepperdine law school who says the lawyers deserve praise, not criticism.

    >> lawyers who did that with respect to the detainees were acting in these fine traditions. they knew it was going to be controversial, but they deserve commendation.

    >> starr dating back to no less a legal authority than john adams who represented the british after the boston massacre .

    >> this is in the finest traditions of our country. i hope school children learn about the example of john adams because we teach it in law school .

    >> reporter: starr and a wrath of lawyers issued a letter. in a statement tonight the justice department points out the names of the lawyers were no secret. they were filed on legal briefs , available to anyone who bothered to google. it says it is, "offensive that their patriotism is being questioned." and there is this, the justice department says since joining the administration several lawyers argued in court against the detainees. andrea mitchell , nbc news, washington.

    >>> you may remember the forced news services
updated 3/9/2010 1:13:53 PM ET 2010-03-09T18:13:53

An organization co-founded by the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney is under fire from prominent conservative lawyers who say a new Web ad unfairly questions the motives of Justice Department lawyers who previously represented suspected terrorists.

The ad, produced by national security-focused group Keep America Safe, questions the "values" of nine lawyers who represented terrorist detainees before coming to the Department of Justice and implies that the names of seven of those attorneys had been purposely withheld by Attorney General Eric Holder.

The group is co-chaired by Liz Cheney and commentator Bill Kristol, as well as conservative advocate and writer Debra Burlingame.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s "Countdown with Keith Olbermann"program on Monday, former U.S. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr called the ad "very unfortunate and ill-conceived" for questioning the motives of attorneys who work on behalf of accused criminals.

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"Lawyers have an ethical obligation to be willing to take on unpopular causes," he told guest host Lawrence O’Donnell. "That is an obligation that goes with the profession. It goes with the territory."

The names of the previously unidentified attorneys, which Cheney’s group dubbed the "al-Qaida 7," worked pro bono on the defense cases of detainees while working at some of the country’s largest private law firms. The Department of Justice confirmed the names to FOX News last week.

Now the dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law, Starr is famous for his tenure as the special prosecutor whose report on the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals of the 1990s led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. He also served as Solicitor General under George H.W. Bush.

Starr’s television appearance was the latest blast in an internecine skirmish among conservatives debating the legitimacy of Keep America Safe's campaign. A group of 19 attorneys – including Starr and several George W. Bush administration officials – cosigned a letter Monday that derided the Web ad as "shameful."

"To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions," the letter states.

On Sunday, Kristol rejected the notion that the ad represents an "attack" on the Justice Department. In a blog post on the website of "The Weekly Standard," Kristol wrote that "the main issues in the debate have been whether Congress and the public are simply entitled to know who these lawyers are, and the question of whether former pro bono lawyers for terrorists should be working on detainee policy for the Justice Department."

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