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Post Politics: Waterboarding, Cheney, Detainee Photos, More

Lois Romano
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Thursday, May 14, 2009 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress with Washington Post national political reporter Lois Romano. Romano was online May 14 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Lois Romano: Good morning everyone. sorry for the delay.

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Greenville, SC: Lois - Based on the first 100 days, how do you think Robert Gibbs is doing as WH Press Secretary? Too glib; "tortured" answers; strikes the right tone?

Lois Romano: Gibbs is thought to be doing well. Mostly importantly, he is close to Obama and in the room when decisions are made. So the public is getting an accurate reflection of the presidents thinking.

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Boston: Lois, I'm glad your rational mind is here today, because I am really confused. How is it that torture is supposed to "Keep us safe" but pictures of the torturing can "Endanger American lives"?

Lois Romano: I dont know how torture keeps us safe. But it is believed that showing photos of torture can open up our troops to retaliation in an environment where Americans are not always popular.

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Whither political gravitas?: Why would ANY politican weigh in the the Miss California flap, least of all one (like the Alaska Governor) with national ambitions, whose political gravitas is already as flimsy as a Victoria's Secret nightie?

Lois Romano: Perhaps she believed that sympathy was on Ms. California's side so she could ride the wave.

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Washington, D.C.: RE: Torture photos. Hi, Lois; am posting early because of a meeting. I am a big supporter of Pres. Obama but am truly dismayed by his backtracking on release of the photos the ACLU is seeking.

I realize you're not a mindreader, but what's your sense of how much this decision reflects a genuine change of heart based on the merits vs. a political calculation that it will defuse accusations that he is soft on terrorists? (Which, by the way, I don't believe it will do--Cheney & Co. will continue to oppose him every step of the way...) Thanks.

Lois Romano: I only know what I read, and I take it at face value. Military leaders apparently advised the president that releasing the photos could compromise US troops.

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Wilmington, N.C.: In my opinion, President Obama did good not to allow the other photos of the detainees into the hands of the public. The generals were right to persuade him. Personally I'm wondering how the first set of photos of Abu Ghraib got out and the amount of stupidity that allowed them into the world's eye. It should have been dealt with appropriately within the services. What opinion do you have on this? Thank you for taking my question.

Lois Romano: I dont know all the facts-- none of us do. But I can certainly see a strong argument for not releasing the photos, on the basis that they could put our troops at risk of retailiation. Previously released photos enraged the mid-east. There is probably a way to still hold those who participated accountable with out releasing sensatioal photos.

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Pelosi Question: When is the Washington Post doing on investigating what Pelosi knew about waterboarding and when? She seems to say one thing and her aides and CIA seem to say another. Sounds fishy one way or another. I would just like to know what the answer is. Who is right?

Lois Romano: I dont know who's right- but I'm sure various news organizationns are looking into what she knew and when she knew it.

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Princeton, NJ: Does it seem reasonable that people who would be friendly to an occupying force would look at these photos and think, "These are really bad guys. I'm gona kill them?"

Could it be that the Generals are afraid a real investigation would get them indicted?

Lois Romano: I have no idea what the generals fear-- but the us has already prosecuted some of these people. And we know that not only "friendly" players are in Iraq.

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...so she could ride the wave: Are you saying that Sarah Palin's an opportunist?

Lois Romano: Im saying, like all politicians, she looks for openings to be on the right side of an issue.

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Pelosi?: Why is Pelosi so much more guilty for knowing about torture than the Bush Administration is about administering it?

Lois Romano: Its not guilt or innocence. Its accountability. If she opposed it, and she knew about it, one could ask why congress did nothing to try and thwart it. Even if it was a classified briefing, congress could have help up funding. Thats where its power is.

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Hey it's me, Dick Cheney: Look I have to be out here defending myself, and I do not care if the GOP gets annoyed at my antics. They are not defending me or my policies, the DEMs are having their way using me and W as whipping boys and blaming us for everything that happened over the last 8 years. The GOP (and some DEMs) are acting like they were not complicit in all of this. But noooooo, all I keep hearing is Dick, put that Gun down, I mean stay off the talk shows, your making a fool of us and yourself.

So I ask you Lois, should I stay or go? At this point, it just does not matter in my eyes. Our collective GOP ratings are in the tank, so I say to you, who would you rather have out front - me, Colin, Rush or whats-his-name, uhm, Steele (who is proving himself to be utterly ineffective).

Lois Romano: Thanks for writing Dick!

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Re: Cheney's media offensive. It is clear to me that Cheney is desperately trying to politicize an issue (torture) that should be strictly a matter of legality or illegality. Obama must keep an arm's length from the issue to try to keep it from being politicized and let the Justice Department and the courts handle it in due course.

It's a similar circumstance with the state secrets issue playing out in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A judicial ruling striking down the state secrets position originally staked out by the Bush administration (and currently carried on by Obama) will carry much more weight, especially on future administrations, than a mere withdrawal of the state secrets claim by the Obama administration.

Lois Romano: thank you for the comments.

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South Riding, VA: How are things going with the economic stimulus? Some reports make it sound as things are getting better and others make it sound like things are getting worse. How much of the stimulus money has been spent? Is anyone working on a Plan B if things start heading in the wrong direction?

Lois Romano: It's too early to know. But a lot of money has gone out the door. Department of Transportation, for example, has spent about $8 billion-- and claims the projects will put tens of thousands of people to work.

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Pelosi: Forgive me for being obtuse, but I can't seem to understand how the alleged knowledge Pelosi may have had regarding waterboarding lets any Republicans off the hook.

Seriously, conservatives have now adopted the "strategy of the switch." What better way to shift focus from torture being approved by President Bush than by claiming somehow Pelosi knew too, as if she had any say in the matter.

Really, is this what the Republican party has been reduced to?

Lois Romano: It doesn't let anyone "off the hook." But, the question being asked is, if Pelosi knew and opposed the t6actic, why didn't she try to stop it. While she did not have line authority to stop it, she did have some influence over the budgetary process that funds it.

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I have no idea what the generals fear: Please name one general that has been prosecuted for looking the other way or encouraging torture, because that is what you just implied.

Lois Romano: I did no such thing. I said some people have been prosecuted. If you know complicit generals, report them!

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Rockville, Md.: I do know something about interrogation. I was in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division as an special agent in Intelligence and had two tours as a civilian in interrogation. I never used any harsh methods and did not see the need. However, I did know waterbaording was routinely used on our own forces in survival training. It must have been thousands every year. Disgusting? Yes. Worth a massive investigation? Not when we have an economy to take care of. Those who want to investigate have partisan motives. I find it sufficient to say "no more" and let it go. Otherwise we would be punishing those without proof on bad intent.

Lois Romano: Thank you for your informed comments. And thank you for your service.

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Pittsburgh: I'm not accusing the Obama administration of pandering to terrorists. But, is it possible that the terrorists are just so glad that the Bush administration has ended that they're less likely to attack the US, at least while pursuing (or contemplating) diplomatic avenues?

Lois Romano: Its possible. But I wouldn't want to second guess any entity that flew planes in the world trade center and killed more that 3,000 people. And I doubt President Obama would either.

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Pelosi: I am all for the Truth Commission idea that puts everyone's involvement out in public.

But I need you to explain this statement:

'Even if it was a classified briefing, congress could have help up funding. Thats where its power is.'

The briefings occurred in 2002/2003, correct? What possible power did Nancy Pelosi have to cut off funding as a member of the minority? Do you believe Tom Delay would have said; "OK, Nancy I agree with you. We'll cut off money for the President's anti-terror program that you don't like." In yesterday's chat, someone said Pelosi could have gone to the AG if she thought this was illegal. Go to the AG whose subordinates in the OLC wrote the memos justifying the program? How would that have gone?

Lois Romano: So you're saying that the Democrats had no recourse, so they shouldn't have objected, shouldn't have made a record of being against it, should not even tried to thwart funding? It was against the law. Was no one in government accountable-- in either party?

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Lois Romano: Thank you all for joing me today. We'll see you back here in two weeks--LR

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