Despite revelations that the CIA kept members of Congress in the dark about a covert intelligence program, and calls for an investigation into the matter from Democrats, President Obama is no closer to looking into the potential misconduct of the Bush years.
"The president's thinking on this has not changed," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of potential investigation. "That's why I referred back to the [speech at] the [National] Archives... his reaction to this is very similar to his reaction at the archives."
Gibbs was referring to the president's stated preference to look forward rather than back. The Obama White House has, since revelations of harsh interrogations authorized by the Bush administration became public, expressed concern with the notion of an independent body investigating those potential violations of law. If it was clear that a law was broken, the rationalization went, the Department of Justice would take action. Absent that, there was little appetite for a fishing expedition.
Now, however, Democrats on the Hill insist that laws have indeed been broken. Reports that Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA had created a program to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and kept that program's existence from Congress violates the tenets of the National Security Act, these offended Democrats argue.
"Individuals who ordered that Congress be kept in the dark should be held accountable," said Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.). " I also have deep concerns about the program itself and have conveyed those concerns, along with a request for a thorough investigation, in a classified letter to the president."
Even if the president privately shares Feingold's sentiments, for the time being, he's not budging on an investigation.
"Let me first state what I know the president strongly believes," Gibbs said during Monday's briefing. "[He believes in] the importance of strong American institutions, like Congress and like the court system that have protected our values and kept us safe. The president believes Congress should always be briefed fully, in a timely manner, in accordance with the law. Those are his beliefs as they relate to any of those programs."
Currently, CIA Director Leon Panetta is reviewing how it was that the Congress was kept in the dark on existence of this covert program. Obama himself was briefed on the matter on Monday, Gibbs said, though no additional details such as how he reacted to the briefing were offered.
"I'm not in the intelligence briefing so I don't know the exact detail of what he has gotten," Gibbs said.
As for reports that the Justice Department was considering starting an investigation into the Bush administration's interrogation practices (a subject different from the covert program), Gibbs was equally vague.
"The Attorney General is making determinations based on a number of issues," said the press secretary.
When asked if the White House would support that investigation Gibbs said, "You're like four hypotheticals down the interstate."
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