Despite reports to the contrary over the weekend, Attorney General Eric Holder's review of a possible criminal investigation into use of enhanced interrogation techniques is taking place with the approval, and even the encouragement, of the White House.
On Sunday, several news outlets, speaking to unnamed sources in the Administration, said that Holder was considering the criminal prosecution despite concerns or "against the wishes" of President Barack Obama, who wanted to leave the issue in the past.
But Capitol Hill Democratic aides and several White House aides who deal with outside political organizations say that's not the case. While the public stance of Obama and his senior aides may be reticence on the enhanced interrogation investigation, "they know the issue is one reason [Obama] has the support from groups like MoveOn, and this is the kind of thing that politically will keep them engaged on other issues," says one White House staffer. "We can't afford to flip on every campaign promise or issue, and there is already a sense out there, what with our decision on terrorist detention, that we're hedging a bit more than these supporters like."
Another concurred, saying that while Obama and Holder would doubtless take political heat from many Republicans and other segments of the public, there was hesitancy to further agitate Obama's friends on the left at a time when they needed that political coalition on a range of issues, including healthcare reform and climate change legislation.
"Better to keep our team happy and willing to fight and have the other side distracted," says a House Democrat aide. "If Holder moves ahead, it doesn't particularly hurt us, but it may indirectly help us: while the other guys get all riled about it, we can just push ahead with other things and leave them in the dust."
It would seem David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel have greater faith in Barack Obama's varied teleprompters than in their man in an unstructured setting.
Several weeks ago, it was announced that tomorrow the president would attend a town hall in Warren, Michigan, a Macomb County suburb of Detroit. Yesterday, however, the White House announced that Obama would not take questions from a community angry over his stimulus plans and auto bailout and where unemployment is higher than the national average of about 10 percent. Instead Obama will make a prepared speech, expected to focus, White House sources said, on education and job retraining programs.
The decision was made, according to Democrat sources in Michigan, after party officials determined that Republicans, as well as auto workers, were planning on seeking admission to the event, to ask questions of the President on the economy, taxes, auto and bank bailouts, and the scandal-ridden Democrat House member, John Conyers.
"There were also rumors that Republicans were going to hold their own town hall nearby to answer the questions Obama did not," says a state Democrat party consultant. "It may be a circus no matter what, but this gives the White House a little more control than they might have had."
The White House, according to sources, is mulling to have selected attendees to the speech ask questions specific to the President's remarks, but as it now stands, they would rather control the message than give the citizens of Michigan the answers they feel he owes them.