I was surprised no one asked President Obama last night about how far investigations, and potentially prosecutions, could go once the Bush administration's interrogation policies began to be examined by the current administration or Congress. After all, Obama was asked if the Bush administration tortured and in so many words he said yes.

Polls clearly show growing opposition to any such probes, and Obama — well-aware of just about everything — seemed to know this when he answered questions on his policy of ending such techniques. "I think the American people, over time, will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy," Obama said at his primetime press conference last night.

The new line from White House officials last weekend was that Obama is constitutionally separated from deciding the question of prosecutions. "The president doesn't open or close the door on criminal prosecutions of anybody in this country because the legal determination about who knowingly breaks the law in any instance is not one that's made by the president of the United States," press secretary Robert Gibbs said on “Meet The Press.”

All true. Obama is not attorney general, and Congress is a coequal branch of government that can pursue oversight when and how it wants to. But Obama's original statements about not looking back in retribution but looking forward in reflection, and his outreach to assure CIA officers, stood in conflict to his later statements. I am sure he thought he would be asked about what changed his mind, in just two days last week, from closing the door on any prosecutions to opening it up again. Though he knows such a controversy could ruin his presidency — and he said as a candidate that he didn't want his first term as president to be consumed by something that could be perceived by Republicans as a partisan witch-hunt — Obama has backed down following an outcry from the left wing of his party.

Obama is therefore susceptible to such pressure. Interesting that he felt he could bluntly resist any promises or reassurance on abortion or immigration last night. And exactly one year ago he was rewarded for standing firm in the face of enormous political pressure on the gas-tax holiday. Having lost badly to Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary, Obama refused to embrace the gas-tax holiday Clinton (and John McCain) were touting, though the Indiana primary was just two weeks later. Superdelegates were getting nervous about Clinton's victories and some Democrats thought supporting the gas-tax holiday — to respond to what then were rapidly escalating fuel costs — would make Obama seem more in touch with blue-collar voters, the kind who rejected him in Pennsylvania.

Obama wouldn't budge. “We're arguing over a gimmick that would save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say they did something,” he said. "Well, let me tell you, this isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer, it's designed to get them through an election."

It will be interesting to see what Obama has to say the next time this question of investigations and prosecutions arises. And it will.


WHAT DID OBAMA INVITE BY DECLARING BUSH ADMINISTRATION PRACTICES TORTURE? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, May 5. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.