Well Played, Robert Gibbs

April 27, 2009 at 7:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did a steller job on Meet the Press this weekend (can’t say as much for Obama’s Chief of Staff after his intv last week on This Week).   Here’s the video and below is the transcript of Gibbs responding to criticism that the WH has made seemingly contradictory statements on the issue of torture over the past week:

Gregory: This administration decided to release legal memos authorizing these techniques from the Bush administration.  And in light of that release, the president and top officials in the White House have made various statements, and I want to try to take you through these now.  April 16th, the president says, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” in terms of what should happen next. Then several days later, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel in an interview says, “Those who devised policy, [President Obama] believes that they should not be prosecuted, and it’s not the place that we go.” You were asked where this all goes on Monday.  The question was, “Why are [Bush administration lawyers] not being held accountable?” You said, “The president is focused on looking forward, that’s why.” And then Tuesday the president again asked what should happen going forward now that these memos are out, and this is what he said.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

PRES. OBAMA:  With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Why the shifting positions?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, David, I don’t think the president has shifted his position.  I think what the president said on the Thursday in which the memos were released, all the way through this, he’s been consistent and clear: those that followed the legal advice, the four corners of the legal advice in good faith, those people should not and will not be prosecuted.  But the president, as you know, David, doesn’t determine who knowingly breaks the law or not.  That’s set up and devised by the Justice Department and other lawyers and legal entities to decide those questions.

In terms of production value, I’m not sure why Gregory decided to include Rahm’s statement if he wasn’t going to ask Gibb a follow up question on it.  I was waiting for Gregory to press Gibbs, but it never came.  But, to Gibbs’ credit, as WH press secretary, this was a slam dunk response: he stayed focused on making clear what statements the President said, avoiding having to address anyone else’s statements from inside the WH, including his own.

Not to turn this into a Gibbs lovefest, but he was equally good on the issue of whether these enhanced interrogation techniques provided valuable intelligence.  Again, here’s the video and transcript below.

GREGORY: I want to show you two views, one from somebody who was actively involved and another one of the intelligence team members now working for President Obama.  George Tenet wrote in his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” this:  “The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied only to a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks.  …  Information from these interrogations helped disrupt plots aimed at locations in the U.S., the U.K., the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia.” And then this from Admiral Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director for President Obama.  This was a memo he wrote internally, and The New York Times reported it this way:  “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” Do you doubt those conclusions?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, David, I, I, you know, I, I don’t think you apparently have the slide where Admiral Blair, the director of national intelligence, says very clearly that, one, you can’t determine whether any information gotten from any suspect, good or bad, couldn’t also be gotten by another method. The, the totality of the use of these methods became a rallying cry and a recruitment tool for the very same people that wanted to do us harm, and that in his opinion and the opinion of both many in the administration to deal with national security as well as many that work outside of our administration, that the use of these techniques, the rallying cry and the recruitment tool that they provided al-Qaeda, the notion that you can’t determine the efficacy of these programs and that you might well have easily gotten any of the information procured this way in a different mean, that it actually makes our country less safe.

Gibbs could have brought up FBI Director Robert Mueller’s comments on the efficacy of torture which further back up the Presiden’t position, but otherwise two big thumbs up for Gibbs.  This was a crucial platform for Gibbs to appear firm and stay on offense, clarifying the President’s decisions as he comes under the microscope from the press this week over his record on the first 100 days in office.


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