Ed Henry to Earnest: How Does Obama Have "Moral Authority" To Be Against "Un-American Tactics" But For Drone Attacks?


ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: Josh, following up on Jon’s questions about John Brennan, you also have as the FBI Chief, James Comey, who served in the Bush Justice Department and helped -- he endorsed a legal memo blessing waterboarding and other enhanced techniques. How could the President appoint John Brennan and James Comey to two of the most sensitive jobs in this administration, CIA and FBI, is he believes they endorsed un-American tactics?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: Well, Ed, I can tell you that Mr. Comey falls in the same category as Mr. Brennan in terms of somebody whose advice the President is pleased that he can rely on to keep the country safe. Mr. Comey is somebody that does have a strong track record. And there have been other instances even in his service in the previous administration where he stood up for and advocated for important civil liberties protections. And this is somebody --

Q: But you don’t see any contradiction that you’re attacked Bush administration policies but you have two of the architects of those policies serving? And two of them --

MR. EARNEST: I don’t think that’s a fair description --

Q: -- endorsing a legal memo --

MR. EARNEST: I don’t think that is a fair description. Certainly --

Q: Mr. Brennan served in the Bush administration as well.

MR. EARNEST: That’s right. But I don’t think it is fair at all to describe him as an architect of those policies.

Q: So you don’t see any contradiction between them endorsing the policies that the President is attacking, and they now serve in two of the most sensitive jobs?

MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you, Ed, is that the President of the United States has complete confidence in the professionalism of these individuals, and he’s got complete confidence that these two individuals who serve in important leadership positions on his national security team are following the law and doing everything that is necessary to protect the American people. And the President is pleased with their service.

Q: Now, two days ago, you very directly said that these policies did not make us safer. Former Vice President Cheney says that’s a crock and a bunch of hooey. How do you respond?

MR. EARNEST: This is not the first time and probably not the last time that this administration strongly disagrees with the views articulated by Vice President Cheney. He’s also somebody who said that deficits don’t matter. He’s also somebody that predicted that American troops would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. So he’s got not a particularly strong track record when it comes to articulating a policy that this President believes is in the best interest of the country.

Q: If Vice President Cheney has such a weak track record on those very issues, why, as Jon said -- why does this President -- not President Bush, but this President’s CIA Director basically agree with Dick Cheney that these tactics saved lives?

Your CIA Director agrees with him.

MR. EARNEST: Again, for questions about Mr. Brennan’s position on these issues, I would direct you to the CIA. They can explain them to you. I don’t think that he would say that he agrees wholeheartedly with Vice President Dick Cheney. But, again, you should ask them.

Q: Both say that these programs saved lives.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, well, again, I don’t think their views are the same.

Q: Okay. You have repeatedly talked about moral authority. So can you explain how the President believes that it’s un-American to use these techniques but it was okay to ramp up the drone policy and basically thousands of people around the world, innocent civilians were killed. What’s the moral equivalency there? How do you have moral authority when innocent civilians are killed by drones?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that the difference here, Ed -- and this is a stark difference in the way that the United States conducts our policy and the way that terrorists around the world conduct their policy -- that there is significant care taken and there are significant checks and balances that are included in the system to ensure that any counterterrorism action that’s taken by the United States of America does not put at risk innocent lives.

Q: But they do in the end. I understand there are safeguards, but in the end, we’ve seen many cases around the world where U.S. drones have killed innocent civilians, despite those safeguards. So how do you have moral authority?

MR. EARNEST: What I’m saying is that is a stark difference from the tactics that are employed by our enemies, who seek to use car bombs to actually target innocent civilians.

Q: Yet you still kill civilians. No one is defending the terrorists’ tactics, but by your tactics --

MR. EARNEST: But you’re asking about our moral authority, and I think there is a very clear difference.

Q: How do you have moral authority if --

MR. EARNEST: There is a very clear difference between the tactics that are used by terrorists and the counterterrorism tactics that are employed by the United States of America that go to great lengths to protect the lives of innocent civilians. In fact, many of these terrorists that we’re talking about -- and, again, many of these counterterrorism activities that are used against terrorists are targeting terrorists that themselves have targeted local populations, that have targeted fellow Muslims in some situations. So the efforts that are taken by this administration to limit or to prevent innocent civilian casualties are consistent with our values and are consistent with our broader strategy for protecting the American people.

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