Senator Russ Feingold urged the president on Tuesday to support the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate potential illegalities during the Bush years, as the President's press secretary punted once again on the topic.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Feingold called the creation of such a commission a political imperative and said that prosecution of those involved in verified wrongdoing should not be taken off the table.
"I think [the president] should support it," said the Senator. "I think this is a very good idea. When I heard that [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick] Leahy proposed this, I complimented him right away ... we have to have some accountability and truth telling about what has happened during the last eight years. There may be the need for prosecuting in some cases and I would not want this to in any way impede the need for prosecuting for those who clearly violated the law and are prosecutable, apart from any immunity."
"I think it is extremely important that there be a public hearing of what happened here, subject to any absolute reasons for secrecy or classification," he added. "So, I think that we have to balance between the potential for prosecutions. But there is an overriding need to have the public know what happened."
Hours later, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether moves by the Justice Department to release interrogation-related memos from the Bush years was an indication that the administration was leaning towards Leahy's proposal.
"I've not heard any updated thinking on that at all," Gibbs said. "I think the President obviously is concerned about, as he said on many occasions, detainee policy and interrogation tactics, and that he's taken the steps, the beginning steps to address Guantanamo Bay and to put the country firmly on record against torture. But I also think the president is focused less on looking back and more on looking forward.
"So does he think Senator Leahy is out on a witch hunt when he's calling for this?" asked New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny.
"No, I don't think I'd say that," replied Gibbs, before promising to get more information on the White House's current thinking.
Up to this point, the White House has steadfastly avoided taking a position on Leahy's proposal, though Obama's chief counsel, Greg Craig, has been in consultation with the Vermont Democrat. Leahy, to be sure, has insisted that he does not need the administration's support and has entertained the idea of going forward with the concept himself. His committee is slated to host a hearing on Wednesday that will, ostensibly, look at the utility of setting up an independent commission. It is titled "Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry."
According to a Senate Judiciary Committee aide, "the Chairman scheduled this hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to explore the best approach to forming a serious, nonpartisan commission aimed at uncovering the facts."