Obama’s First 100 Days

By Jennifer Parker

Apr 26, 2009 11:20am

At almost the 100 day mark of his administration, A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds 69 percent of Americans polled approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance.

Even better news for the Obama administration: Americans’ sense that the country is headed in the "right direction" has soared from 19 percent just before Obama’s inauguration to 50 percent today — a stunning advance to its highest in six years.

However, there is decidedly less support for Obama’s decision to release memos on the Bush-era interrogation tactics, according to the ABC/Post poll.

About 53 percent say they support Obama’s decision to release the memos, and only 49 percent say they support Obama’s ban on employing torture tactics against detainees.

On "This Week" this morning, our Roundtable — Financial Times US managing editor Chrystia Freeland, New York Times’ David Sanger, ABC’s George Will, Matthew Dowd and Donna Brazile — debated the merits of releasing the memos, and calls for a "truth commission" on Capitol Hill: 

GEORGE WILL: I wonder where the president now stands on that very question. Because he is tip toeing into very deep and dangerous waters here.

If the memos are going to be investigated as some kind of culpable lawyer here, if we’re going to say (inaudible) is a crime, and if we are going to say meretricious lawyering is a crime, it’s going to put our growth industry and our country out of business but beyond that what do you do about those who are commissioning the lawyering and whose behalf the lawyering was done. Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush. Once you start up that pyramid, and it’s not a slippery slope, it’s a pyramid there climbing, it’s very hard to stop. And whether the country wants to go through this, and destroy what little remains of comity —

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And David I have to say I was surprised that the president flipped around about the question of the prosecution on Wednesday after Rahm’s appearance here last Sunday. Because all of his comments up until Wednesday seem to indiciate he really did want to move beyond this.

DAVID SANGER: Right, until this time his point was we have a huge agenda out here. The thing to do is make the policy decisions about closing Guantanamo, and changing detention policy and getting rid of these practices and move on. I thought this was the very first time, the very end of the hundred days, that you say this White House lost its great message control . And you had Rahm here saying what he had to say, making the statement that the president was not going to look backward. And then the president opens the door right up again.

DONNA BRAZILE: There is no question that the president is not only listening to some in his administration, but up on Capitol Hill, George, as you know.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: a lot of pressure.

DONNA BRAZILE: Sen. Leahy is going to move forward on the House side. Nancy Pelosi supports an independent commission. There are many on her Democratic side that believe this should be investigated. Go up the pyramid, find out if there are Republicans or Democrats, no one is above the law, George. It’ s immoral, its wrong, it was ineffective. And if we have to get to the bottom of it it’s uncomfortable. It might cause us to lose some stand in with some of our friends but our allies are going to look at what we did so let’s get it on.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: I think you raise a really important point, Donna. The politics are actually quite clear and that’s why the president played it the way he did in the beginning. Politically it would be so much more convenient for this administration to say we’ came clean about the memos, we’ve announced that we’re not going to do this, we are going to close down Guantanamo. Let’s move on to our other issues. It might no just be about politics. It might not be about right and left, it might be about right and wrong. And that becomes much more difficult. It might be about illegal and legal.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Right and wrong is a clear issue. Even the author of the torture memos said he is uncomfortable with what he reads now about what he wrote. No question it was wrong. For this to be a crime, the lawyers would have to write it knowing what they are writing is wrong and what they are really trying to do is sanction torture.

MATTHEW DOWD: Well that’s the situation I think the President’s in right now. And he wants to let this issue go. He doesn’t want to deal with this issue. He knows its not helpful for his dealings with Congress. He knows the American public doesn’t want to go back and do this. But he’s got a big portion of his base that wants to punish people. That’s really mad about the Bush administration, that’s really mad about Iraq. He’s really mad about many things and wants people punished. And so he’s having to deal with all these folks wanting people punished and a Congress he wants to deal with. The other things Democrats have to be aware of, when you see Democrats talk like this like the police guy in Casablanca when he says I’m shocked there’s gambling going on here. they knew full well exactly what was approved and what was going on.

GEORGE WILL: Precisely, I think that when Speaker Pelosi said she wanted a truth commission she better be prepared to be acquainted with that commission. Because they are going to want to know how a 10 year member of the committee was shocked and surprised by that.

DONNA BRAZILE: Let the truth come out George, what’s wrong with that. Let the truth set us free, so to speak and let’s hear from those Democrats that were briefed on this issue. But this is something larger, it’s about the rule of law.

GEORGE WILL: I agree with that, and I think that the Donna Brazile Dick Cheney position is good one. (Laughter) Maybe we ought to also in our transparency, sunlight, and all the rest we ought to release the memos about what they actually learned and find out for example, Mike McConnell former [National] Intelligence director, "we have people alive and walking around today alive because this process happened". George Tenet, former CIA director, "I know this process has saved lives, I know we’ve disrupted plots."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well it is going to be a debate because on the other side we have the FBI director John Muller saying that no plots were disrupted by this but Muller says also this FBI interrogator Soufan who was part of the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah says that most of the information they got came through the patient interrogation.

DAVID SANGER: This is the fascinating part of what unfolded this week/ We knew fundamentally what the enhanced interrogation efforts were. Much of that has been published by many different newspapers. What we don’t know is whether it worked.. When we asked Vice President Cheney to release the evidence, they said there was no way they could release it without harming national security. Now suddenly Cheney has had a huge change of heart on this issue. And that’s going to be…

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder if we are going to get any closer…as one White House official described to me, its basically going to be a jump ball. There is going to be evidence on both sides about how reliable and how important this information was.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: But isn’t that an argument in favor of a terrible process. In favor of looking at what information came out when? Which I think is also not entirely clear.

MATTHEW DOWD: The President is very concerned I think, justifiably so, about what kind of pattern does he set for the future on things like this. He’s very concerned about that. And as I say, by his remarks and what he’s done I think he wants this issue to go away.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that has to be the most difficult thing the president faced. He’s probably the first president since Calvin Coolidge to now say that he is going to look back at another administration. I think he is the first one ever to reveal this much information.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: …No need to worry, this is a very popular president. It is at a time when America is at peace- well more at peace then it has been for a while. There hasn’t been a recent terrorist attack on America. Yet the support that the poll showed for the release of the memos was relatively weak.

GEORGE WILL: At the heart of this is an institution that most people know nothing about, and that is the office of legal counsel which gives opinions on what the government can legally and legally not do.If we proceed with this and the memos generated in the office of legal counsel were ruled to have not been the grounds for action, legitimate grounds, people are culpable for not taking those grounds seriously, then what do people say in the future when we ask the government but can we trust it and are we going to be hung up to dry.

–George Stephanopoulos 

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