Obama Says It Plainly: He Was Nervous About Bin Laden Raid

Aside from details about mission logistics and the planning behind the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, one notable takeaway from President Obama's interview with "60 Minutes" was his candor about how nervous the operation made him.

If you didn't see the interview and want to get a sense of how Obama came across, sitting down to talk about the raid with a journalist for the first time since it happened, see the two excerpts below, where Obama readily admits that he felt unsteady about the operation and that he found it difficult to concentrate during the days before it happened, as he kept it secret from his family and some of his top aides.

From CBS's full interview transcript, which contains just a bit more material than what aired on Sunday night (bold for emphasis):

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah. Yeah. The decision was made. I made the decision Thursday night, informed my team Friday morning, and then we flew off to look at the tornado damage. To go to Cape Canaveral, to make a speech, a commencement speech. And then we had the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night. So this was in the back of my mind all weekend.

KROFT: Just the back?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Middle, front.

KROFT: Was it hard keeping your focus?


KROFT: Did you have to suppress the urge to tell someone? Did you wanna tell somebody? Did you wanna tell Michelle? Did you tell Michelle?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know one of the great successes of this operation was that we were able to keep this thing secret. And it's a testimony to how seriously everybody took this operation and the understanding that any leak could end up not only compromising the mission, but killing some of the guys that we were sending in there.

And so very few people in the White House knew. The vast majority of my most senior aides did not know that we were doing this. And you know, there were times where you wanted to go around and talk this through with some more folks. And that just wasn't an option.

And during the course of the weekend, you know, there was no doubt that this was weighin' on me. But, you know, something I said during the campaign that I've learned over and over again in this job is the Presidency requires you to do more than one thing at a time. And it is important for you to be able to focus on somethin' that matters deeply to you, but still be able to do the things on a daily basis that are makin' a difference in people's lives.

After ordering the raid on the morning of Friday, April 29, Obama attended to a packed schedule. Later that day he met with participants of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, traveled with his family to Alabama to survey tornado damage, toured shuttle launch facilities in Cape Canaveral, and delivered a commencement address at Miami Dade College. On Saturday night, he attended and spoke at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner.

On the tension in the situation room:

KROFT: I want to go to the Situation Room. What was the mood?


KROFT: People talking?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, but doing a lot of listening as well, 'cause we were able to monitor the situation in real time. Getting reports back from Bill McRaven, the head of our special forces operations, as well as Leon Panetta. And you know, there were big chunks of time in which all we were doin' was just waiting. And it was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old, and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right. It was a very tense situation.

KROFT: Were you nervous?


KROFT: What could you see?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: As I said, we were monitoring the situation. And we knew as events unfolded what was happening in and around the compound, but we could not get information clearly about what was happening inside the compound.

KROFT: Right. And that went on for a long time? Could you hear gunfire?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We had a sense of when gunfire and explosions took place.

KROFT: Flashes?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah. And we also knew when one of the helicopters went down in a way that wasn't according to plan. And, as you might imagine that made us more tense.

Since bin Laden's death, Obama has taken a somber tone in discussing it, and in this interview he stressed that he was primarily concerned with the SEALs' safety. And in being remarkably up front about how he felt about this mission, Obama seemed to reveal a degree of uncertainty over whether the raid would work.