At a White House meeting Thursday, President Obama told Congressional leaders that he thinks it would be a mistake to set up a commission to investigate excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terror.
“The president said that given all that’s on the agenda and the pressing issues facing the country, that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive,” a White House official who attended the session said. “The president was very clear…that he believes it’s important that there’s not a witch hunt.”
By Josh Gerstein and Amie Parnes
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he asked Obama to release details about what intelligence was obtained from aggressive interrogations.
“The American people deserve to make their judgments about this national security matter based on a full set of facts,” Boehner said in a written statement.
According to Boehner, the president said further disclosures were being discussed by the administration. However, the White House official, who asked not be named, said the president made no explicit statement about a review.
“What he said is, as he makes these decisions, that he would put our national security first and that would be his top consideration,” the official said, adding: “The president didn’t directly commit to any sort of review.”
The White House aide said Obama quipped that public discussion of the interrogation question seemed pretty vigorous, thanks in large part to former vice president Dick Cheney.
“The president said jokingly that Dick Cheney was working pretty hard to ensure his side was heard in the public debate,” the official said.
Sources said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed her support for a “truth commission,” but her comments came near the end of the 90-minute session, after Obama had already thrown cold water on the idea. At another point in the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed support for Obama’s position that a broad-ranging inquiry would be an unhelpful distraction.
Obama was intent on building some bipartisan bonhomie during the meeting, the White House aide said. The president thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for his efforts to expedite the nomination process and expressed appreciation to Boehner for his efforts on new legislation expanding a national community service program.
Picking up on complaints from House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about Republicans being frozen out of pivotal legislative discussions, Obama said he favored giving the GOP “opportunities to participate in the process from the beginning,” particularly in upcoming debates over health care and the budget, an official said.
Other attendees at the session included Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Jonathan Martin contributed to this report