Obama's Evolving Opposition To A Truth Commission

While it's been noted that President Obama reiterated his opposition yesterday to a "truth commission" to investigate the Bush administration, it's worth pointing out there's been a nuanced change in that opposition--the difference being that he no longer opposes Congress looking into potential Bush-era abuses.

On April 21, Obama said that if such an investigation takes place, Congress should come up with a way to do it "outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines, to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs clarified later that day, at his daily press briefing, that Obama "would see a 9/11 Commission as a...model for how any investigation or commission might be set up."

And this stance was pretty much in line with the leading proposal in Congress, offered by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, which coincidentally uses the 9/11 Commission as a model.

But in yesterday's national security speech at the National Archives, while Obama reupdiated the truth-commission idea, he noted the ability of Congress and the Department of Justice to review the past. From prepared remarks:

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years.

Indeed, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts held a hearing May 12 on the Bush Office of Legal Counsel memos that Obama released. Conyers has expressed interest in holding House Judiciary Committee hearings on the memos as well, pening a report on them by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

The bottom line is that Obama opposes the truth-commission idea, but his opposition seems to have evolved. In April, he cautioned against the hearing process and said he'd prefer an independent panel; yesterday, he said the hearing process works just fine.

Granted, a hearing on the memos isn't the same as a series of high-profile, full-committee hearings entitled, for instance, "Bush's Legacy of Abuse--How Best To Prosecute"--it's narrow in its focus and doesn't smack of the high-profile witchhunting Obama has sought to avoid.

But it does show that, despite Obama's prior warning, Congress has been able to examine one of the issues that any broader investigation/commission would surely look at. Perhaps that reality had something to do with Obama's nod to Congress and the functionality of oversight hearings in his national security speech.