Remarks Suggest President is Open to an Investigation
April 21 — Press secretary Robert Gibbs faced persistent questioning from the White House press corps, which focused primarily on whether President Obama is now open to possibly holding former Bush administration officials — including the former president — accountable for CIA interrogation methods of suspected terrorists.
In response to reporters after his meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah earlier in the day, Obama said, “If and when there needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period, I think for Congress to examine ways that it can be done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines, to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take.”
Later, at the daily briefing, White House correspondents — mainly Chip Reid of CBS, Chuck Todd of NBC and Jake Tapper of ABC — pressed Gibbs on whether this signaled “a change of policy” by Obama, who had previously said CIA officers should not be held accountable for what they did.
Gibbs said, no, it was not a change of policy — Obama still believes CIA personnel should not be held accountable. Rather, the president was allowing for the possibility that laws may have been broken in deeming the interrogation methods legal. In other words, Bush administration lawyers who wrote the opinions that became the legal basis for the methods might be on the hook.
Todd and others asked if Obama might be making “an exception” for CIA officers. Gibbs again said no, that people acting “in good faith” of what they were told was legal and people potentially declaring illegal acts legal are different matters.
The second most-popular subject was the substance of Obama’s meeting with Abdullah and to what extent the administration is committed to a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
While the pace of the briefing held steady and the questions kept coming, both Gibbs and many reporters shared momentary laughs at times. But when Gibbs left the podium, the question was still hanging: Exactly what did the president mean about who should be held accountable and who should investigate?