Senator Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday, that the White House had assured him that the president was still committed to preventing the release of photos showing detainee abuse -- and that he would prefer Congress take the lead.
Speaking at a hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder, the South Carolina Republican relayed a message from Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the president was not backing down on the issue.
"I just talked with the White House a moment ago, with Rahm Emanuel," Graham said. "And he has indicated to me that the president would not let these photos see the light of day. That he would prefer the Congress to act.
Graham's remarks come just days after the Senate rejected an amendment, offered by Graham and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), that would have allowed the Secretary of Defense sole authority to determine the release of the controversial photos. Unable to get it attached to the war supplemental, Graham now says that he has assurances from Majority Leader Harry Reid that the measure will be considered as a stand-alone bill.
When that happens, the South Carolinian says that he will have the White House's full support in the matter. And during his brief questioning of Holder on Wednesday, Graham wondered if the Attorney General would follow suit.
"Do you agree with me that it would be the preferred route in terms of impressing the court if Congress would act on this subject matter rather than executive order?" Graham asked at one point.
"Yes," responded Holder. "I think that having Congress act would be a preferred way."
"I have been assured by Rahm Emanuel and yourself, I think, that the president's position is to not let these photos see the light of day," Graham added, asking Holder later if he thought the bill would be the "best way to protect the troops."
"I do," responded Holder. "I think there are compelling reasons why these photos should not be released."
The administration's position on the release of additional detainee abuse photos has been a subject of intense controversy since Obama insisted that he wanted the images kept private. The defeat of the Graham-Lieberman amendment was welcome news to human rights advocates, progressives, and civil libertarians in Congress. Word that the White House is not backing down from the legislative fight, by contrast, will be received with frustration and concern.