By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 27, 2009
White House officials yesterday confronted more questions about President Obama's position on prosecution of former Bush lawyers who drafted memos legalizing harsh interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects.
In appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, Obama advisers sought to portray the president as constitutionally removed from the question of whether anyone should be prosecuted for breaking the law.
"What he has said is that anyone who followed the advice of the Justice Department and did any kind of acts that were within the confines of that advice, he doesn't think we should prosecute," adviser Valerie Jarrett said on CNN's "State of the Union."
"The rest of it," she added, "he leaves up to the U.S. attorney general. That is who is supposed to make decisions about prosecution.
"So I think the president has been very clear, and what he said is, we need to be a nation of laws, we need to be consistent, and he leaves it to the attorney general to figure out who should be prosecuted for what."
Press secretary Robert Gibbs used the same argument on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"The president doesn't open or close the door on criminal prosecutions of anybody in this country because the legal determination about who knowingly breaks the law in any instance is not one that's made by the president of the United States," Gibbs said.
The administration's defense came as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's adversary in the 2008 presidential contest and a victim of torture during the Vietnam War, urged the White House not to pursue prosecutions.
"Maybe there's an element of settling old political scores here," McCain said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "We need to put this behind us, we need to move forward."
And other Republicans continued to vent their anger over the release of the memos, saying that Obama has made the country less safe and made it more difficult for U.S. troops.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that any prosecution would be a "stab in the back" to the CIA.
"And what's worse, now the terrorists know that nothing can be done to them that wasn't done to our voluntary military enlistees in the Marines, the SEALs and pilots who went through these same techniques, and that is -- has absolutely destroyed our ability to get further information from terrorists," Bond said.
Three days before Obama hits the 100-day mark, advisers also sought to portray his efforts to repair the economy as gaining some traction despite the continuing bad financial news.
National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers said the economic picture no longer feels like it did two months ago, when there were no positive signs and the "economy felt like it was falling vertically."
Today, he said, "the picture is much more mixed. There are some negative indicators, to be sure. There are also some positive indicators. And no one knows what the next turn will be."
Two big economic stories are likely to emerge in the next two weeks: the results of "stress tests" for the nation's major banks, which will reveal whether they are healthy or need more government aid; and the results of negotiations at Chrysler to determine whether it needs bankruptcy protection.
Summers said on Fox that the administration is not desperate to help Chrysler avoid bankruptcy, adding that the process does not necessarily lead to the kind of liquidation that people often think of.
Asked about the banks, Jarrett raised the prospect that the White House could force more management changes, but she declined to be specific before the results of the tests are made public next Monday.
"In order to have a healthy economy, we need to have strong banks," she said. "They need to be well-capitalized. They need to be able to lend dollars and help support our economy. And so, at the end of the stress test, we want to make sure that those are -- that the banks are in a position to do that. And so whether management changes occur, whether banks are asked to raise more capital, all of that is going to come forth in the coming week."