The president has been playing the “Look, Ma—no hands!” game for the better part of a week, denying responsibility for the decision to name a special prosecutor to go after CIA operatives interrogating terrorists overseas. Democrats are ignoring the whole thing, now dimly aware that this is not the sort of thing the public likes. Conservatives are furious and taking the president to task for his refusal to take responsibility for the decision—or fire Attorney General Eric Holder if this isn’t what the president wanted.
Michael Barone, recalling that Harry Truman sacked an attorney general, writes:
Obama administration spokesmen are portraying the president as unable to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to have a special prosecutor determine whether to prosecute CIA interrogators who were cleared by Department of Justice career attorneys back in 2004. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” a White House spokesman said. Utter nonsense. The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, and the president can determine that a prosecution would undermine the national security—a subject on which he has a wider perspective and a greater responsibility than the attorney general—and order that it not go forward.
[. . .]
If Barack Obama really meant it when he said that he didn’t want to see prosecutions of CIA interrogators for acts committed long ago, for which they were cleared long ago, he has a ready alternative: he can give Eric Holder the same treatment Harry Truman gave [his attorney general] J. Howard McGrath.
Newt Gingrich makes a similar suggestion. And Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, is outraged that Holder is conducting his own war on CIA personnel—over the strenuous and entirely ignored objections of Leon Panetta. We are left wondering why the president prefers to hide, copping to managerial ineptness and timidity. This is no way to score points with the netroots and liberals on the Hill. They are expecting a robust series of investigations and prosecutions and can’t be impressed with the president’s timidity. (And he will come off the Martha Vineyard’s golf course eventually and face some questions about all this.)
One thing the Right and Left can agree upon: this is a shameful performance. If Obama is fine with Holder’s witch hunt, he should say so. And if not, he should act like the president and put an end to it, or Holder’s tenure. By trying to have it both ways—allowing a war on the CIA and positioning himself as defender of our intelligence community—Obama is convincing both sides he lacks credibility and, yes, courage.