Stephanopoulos Pushes Obama to Drop Tax Cuts and to Prosecute Bush's Crimes

Interviewing President-elect Barack Obama for Sunday's This Week, ABC's George Stephanopoulos zeroed in on criticism of including tax cuts in the “stimulus bill” and repeatedly pressed Obama about naming a special prosecutor, a 9/11-like commission or at least getting “your Justice Department to investigate” what an e-mail Stephanopoulos showcased on screen described as “the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.” On taxes, Stephanopoulos demanded: “Do you really believe those business tax cuts are going to work to create jobs?” He soon yearned: “But you might give up on some of the business tax cuts?”

Stephanopoulos put this e-mailed question up on the screen from “Bob Fertik of New York City,” failing to note he's a left-wing activist with “Prosecute Bush & Cheney!” at the top of his Web site: “Will you appoint a special prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.?” As Obama expressed reticence, Stephanopoulos pushed for alternatives to drag national security officials into the legal process: “So, no 9/11 commission with independent subpoena power?” Not giving up, he offered another way to go: “So, let me just press that one more time. You're not ruling out prosecution, but will you tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence wherever it leads?”

Fertik's blog now features how Stephanopoulos posed his question: “Let me thank Stephanopoulos for raising the issue of accountability for the crimes of the Bush Administration -- a topic that is taboo in the Washington Establishment.”

In between those two topics, Stephanopoulos delivered an unintentionally preposterous exchange in which he assumed Obama can do everything but walk on water:

STEPHANOPOULOS: At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of a grand bargain? That you have tax reform, health care reform, entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?

OBAMA: Yes.

The messiah has arrived. Or Republicans will have to play dead.

Stephanopoulos at least hit Obama with Vice President Dick Cheney's admonition: “Before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it” to keep the nation safe.

Highlights from the pre-taped interview session aired on the Sunday, January 11 This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: It's been pretty well-received in the Congress. But you're getting some pushback as well, especially from Senate Democrats on the tax cut portions. Senator Tom Harkin said this is trickle down economics all over again. They're focused especially on the business taxes. Do you really believe those business tax cuts are going to work to create jobs? Or did you put them in so you could get Republican votes?

[OBAMA]

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you might give up on some of the business tax cuts?

....

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me press down on this, at the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of a grand bargain? That you have tax reform, health care reform, entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?

BARACK OBAMA: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And when will that get done?

OBAMA: Well, the -- right now I'm focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure that we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you describe is exactly what we're going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government, what are we getting for it, and how do we make the system more efficient?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And eventually sacrifice from everyone.

OBAMA: Everybody's going to have to give, everybody's going to have to have some skin in the game.

....

AUDIO OF DICK CHENEY: Before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it. Because it is going to be vital to keeping the nation safe and secure in the years ahead and it would be a tragedy if they threw over those policies simply because they've campaigned against them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you going to take it?

....

STEPHANOPOULOS: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On change.gov, it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest [Stephanopoulos says "greatest"] crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"

OBAMA: We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no 9/11 commission with independent subpoena power?

OBAMA: We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, let me just press that one more time. You're not ruling out prosecution, but will you tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence wherever it leads?

OBAMA: What I -- I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is he's the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past.

ABCNews.com transcript and some video clips.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center