Did Bush and Obama make a secret deal in 2008?

Around the time George W. Bush’s memoir was released, Alex Barker posted this bizarre anecdote at the Financial Times’s Westminster Blog.

George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.

The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor.

Naturally the election came up in conversation. Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate.

Not a chance. “I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present.“I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”

Time Magazine later quoted a Bush “spokesman,” who said Barker’s anecdote was “ridiculous and untrue.”

“President Bush proudly supported John McCain in the election and voted for him,” said Bush spokesman David Sherzer to Politico.

Nevertheless, President Obama has gone to great lengths to protect members of the Bush administration from any accountability for the crimes they committed while in office. The Justice Department defended John Yoo, author of the torture memo. Justice also went to court to defend the Bush administration’s use “state secrets privilege” to excuse NSA domestic spying. They defended Donald Rumsfeld against charges related to torture.

Recently it was learned from formerly secret cables released by Wikileaks that the Obama administration pressured Spain to drop criminal charges against six Bush officials. David Corn writes:

In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

The Bush officials were charged with

“creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel.

The Republicans who helped Obama pressure Spain were Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). Corn again:

Back when it seemed that this case could become a major international issue, during an April 14, 2009, White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama administration would cooperate with any request from the Spaniards for information and documents related to the Bush Six. He said, “I don’t want to get involved in hypotheticals.” What he didn’t disclose was that the Obama administration, working with Republicans, was actively pressuring the Spaniards to drop the investigation.

In general, as anyone with half a brain has noticed, the Obama administration has carried on Bush’s policies and sometimes has taken them even further–for example with Obama’s claiming the power to unilaterally order the assassination of American citizens.

Why would Obama defend Bush administration policies so assiduously? Is it just because Obama wants to hold onto the “enhanced” executive powers that Bush claimed during his tenure as president? Or are these two supposed political opponents actually engaged in a collaborative effort to expand the powers of the presidency?

Let’s look back at the 2008 general election campaign. In late September, Barack Obama and John McCain were preparing for the first presidential debate, to be held at the University of Mississippi on September 26, shortly after news of the financial meltdown broke. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had proposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to Congress on September 20. Read the rest of this entry »