Obama Leaves Door Open (a Bit) On Prosecuting Bush Officials

By Jennifer Parker

Jan 11, 2009 9:16am

During my exclusive interview with President-elect Barack Obama airing Sunday morning on "This Week" I asked the president-elect to respond to a one of the most popular questions on his own website, www.Change.gov.

"Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor — ideally Patrick Fitzgerald — to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?" asked Bob Fertik of New York who runs the Democrats.com website.

Fertik submitted the question to Obama’s "Open for Questions" portion of the site, and later to us when he didn’t receive a response.

During his presidential campaign, Obama left the door open to a special prosecutor, so I asked him to respond to Fertik’s question.

Here was Obama’s answer:

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: "We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to look at past practices. And I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: "So no 9/11 Commission with independent seeking of power?"

OBAMA: "Well we have not made any final decisions but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward, we are doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation’s going to be to move forward," Obama said.

STEPHANOPOULOS: "So let me just press that one more time. You’re not ruling out prosecution, but will you tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence where it leads?"

OBAMA: What I — I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is that he’s the people’s lawyer. Eric Holder’s been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people. Not be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So ultimately, he’s going to be making some calls. But my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."

–George Stephanopoulos

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