Huffpost Politics
Sam Stein Headshot

Axelrod: We Can't Afford To Get "Bogged Down" In Bush Investigation Debate

Posted: Updated:

Remarks made by Obama senior adviser David Axelrod on Monday provide the clearest indication to date that the White House is not only uninterested in pursuing investigations of Bush officials involved in torture but views them as a distraction from a larger governing agenda.

Speaking before the Religious Action Center, a Reform Judaism advocacy organization, Axelrod warned against re-litigating the past, arguing that the current White House didn't need such a distraction when it already had so much on its plate.

"The president believes strongly that we need to be looking forward," said Axelrod. "If he had not banned these [interrogation techniques] there would be a different case to be made here. But these practices are a thing of the past. What this should not become is a forum for re-litigating these issues apropos to the last administration and some of the policy makers there, because we have too much work to do to become bogged down in that debate. That's the feeling."

The remarks, which Axelrod acknowledged would come as a disappointment to the largely progressive crowd, are a step further than the Obama White House has largely been willing to go on the issue of investigating the Bush years.

The president himself has said that if illegalities were proven it would be the obligation of his Justice Department to investigate and/or prosecute them. And while, also on Monday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated the president's preference for moving "the country forward" he did not, like Axelrod, qualify why it was that Obama was disinclined to look back.

"The President does believe and the Attorney General said quite clearly that those that believed in good faith that these techniques had been declared legal by the Department of Justice should not be prosecuted," Gibbs explained.

Indeed, the line from the White House, especially in wake of the release of the Bush-era torture memos, has been to stress that those techniques have now been outlawed and pivot to another question. Axelrod tried the line too, stressing that the president closed this "dark chapter in our history" by shutting down Guantanamo Bay and ending the practice of torture. Forgoing investigations, he added, was not an easy one to make, as evident by the four weeks of consultation Obama took to evaluate the matter.

"We do have real threats in the world and a national security apparatus that has to confront those threats every single day," Axelrod added. "And what [Obama] has said is he does not believe we should prosecute those people who were told that these [techniques] were with the legal parameters for interrogation, and then go back and say, 'You know what, they really weren't, so now you are going to be prosecuted.'"