Interview with David Axelrod

Interview with David Axelrod

By The Situation Room - May 10, 2010

BLITZER: And joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House, David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the president.

David, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Was it a mistake for Elena Kagan, when she was dean of the Harvard Law School, to oppose allowing the U.S. military to recruit law students because of the Pentagon's don't ask, don't tell policy?

AXELROD: Well, that's not -- that's not exactly what happened.

The fact is that there was recruitment on the Harvard campus at the time that she was there. She maintained a policy that existed before she came there not allowing the career placement office to -- to -- to host that, because there was a policy relative to discrimination.

When the law was passed and upheld banning that, then she changed the policy. So, she tried to conform to the policy of the school, and the law. And yes, she expressed herself on the law, but she's always been very hospitable to military recruitment and to young people on campus who wanted to serve their country.

In fact, the irony of this discussion, Wolf, is her objection to the "don't ask, don't tell" law was she wanted everyone who wanted to serve their country -- every young person, every young person who wants to serve their country -- to have that opportunity.

BLITZER: Because Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the judiciary committee, he's concerned. He says this is a significant issue he wants to discuss with her, especially her comments back in 2003, that the Pentagon's policy, in her words, was a "profound wrong, a moral injustice of the first order."

AXELROD: Wolf, I think her concern was that every young American who wants to serve their country should have that opportunity. But Senator Sessions should and will have that opportunity to discuss it with her. And I hope that he also talks to the young men and women from Harvard who served in the military who came into contact with Dean Kagan when she was there, and who got her full support, because she is -- she was very close to veterans on campus, and they were supportive of her.

BLITZER: On the issue of gay marriage, as solicitor general, she suggested there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage. On this specific issue -- is she and the president, as far as you know, David, on the same page?

AXELROD: Well, the president spoke on this issue, and he has not supported same-sex marriage. So -- but this -- and perhaps this will come up during the hearings, but she was not representing just his point of view, she was representing the point of view of the government on this.

BLITZER: As solicitor general --


BLITZER: -- her job is to represent the government and argue these cases --


BLITZER: -- before the court. Basically, that's her experience, arguing before the court, right?


BLITZER: You looked at all of the various judges out there and you decided this time you didn't want a judge.

AXELROD: Well, first of all, Wolf, that's not the breadth of her experience. In fact, she probably has got more diverse experience than most of the appointees that we've seen. She's worked in all branches of government. She clerked for a very distinguished appellate court judge. She clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, a legend on the Supreme Court.

She's represented the United States of America before the Supreme Court for the last 15 months. And, you know, she's referred to the -- the solicitor general is referred to as the tenth justice because they work so much with the court. So, she's well-qualified and I think you'll have a hard time finding observers of the court, legal scholars who would argue otherwise.

BLITZER: The attorney general now says it's now time to take another look at the whole Miranda rights that are provided suspects in these kind of cases in the aftermath of the Times Square bombing incident. Is the president and attorney general -- are they -- are they on the same page when it comes to reopening the Miranda rights laws right now?

AXELROD: I think the president is open to looking at that issue. The question is whether the public safety exception that allows a delay in administering those rights is -- how elastic is that, and do we need to make any sort of adjustment to it. Basically, though, the -- that went fairly well. The suspect was interrogated. The suspect obviously shared a great deal of information and the system worked.

So, there may be some things that have to be done. Certainly, we're willing to talk to Congress about that. But they'd be in the -- in the area of adjustments, not wholesale revision.

BLITZER: And as far as you know, Faisal Shahzad, is he still cooperating right now?

AXELROD: My understanding is that they have gotten quite a bit of information from him. I can't speak to what his status is at this moment. But, you know, plainly, they have been able to put together a pretty -- a pretty detailed portrait of what's happened here in the attorney general and John Brennan spoke to that yesterday. They know now that the TTP, the Taliban in Pakistan were involved in this in a very deep and involved way. And that came from -- in part from those interrogations; in part from work that's being done in Pakistan.

BLITZER: I know the president has been up-to-date. He's been meeting on the whole oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm going to play a clip of what he said on March 31st and you tell me if those words are still operable today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness additional sources of fuel, even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable homegrown energy. So, today we're announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration.


BLITZER: Is that still operable?

AXELROD: Well, what I've said before, Wolf, after this incident and obviously, we're going to -- we're going to look at what happened here to make sure that the appropriate safety precautions are taken in whatever new drilling is done and nothing is going to move forward without that. And we have to review this incident.

But the president still believes that this is one dimension in a multitude of things we have to do to ensure our energy independence and to make the -- to make the transition to a clean energy future, a bridge to that. So, yes, I -- that is still -- that is still his belief. But we have to do it in a responsible way. And if we can't do it in a responsible way, then we won't move forward.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, he's still open to -- in his words -- the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration.

AXELROD: He -- there were additional areas opened up for that possibility. And we're going to make sure that if -- before anything moves forward, before new leases are let and drilling is done, that it's done in accordance with safety precautions that guard against the kind of incident that we saw here.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the president -- David, thanks for coming in.

AXELROD: OK. Good to be with you.


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