Gibbs takes a swipe at DOJ over ‘odd’ use of 17-year old Powell testimony in DADT brief

If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that any time a gay-related question is asked at the White House briefing, Robert Gibbs will give a confusing answer. But, every now and then, his answers are actually good for the pro-equality side. Today, in response to a question from Kerry Eleveld asking if DOJ was “tone deaf,” Gibbs took a swipe at the Department of Justice’s recent brief defending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (we first reported on that brief here.)

Gibbs found it “odd” that DOJ used the old testimony of Colin Powell and thought Obama would think that, too:

The Advocate: So obviously there’s a number of cases sort of wending their way through the courts right now challenging DOMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Last week the Department of Justice filed another brief defending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It angered a lot of advocates; some legal scholars thought it was a step backwards in terms of dismantling the law. Is the President at all concerned that DOJ is a little insular or tone deaf on issues that are sort of politically sticky, especially those of interest to the LGBT community?

GIBBS: I will say this, obviously the President has enunciated his support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” rolling back — made a commitment to roll back DOMA in the campaign. Obviously, the Justice Department has — is charged with upholding the law as it exists, not as the President would like to see it. We have obviously taken steps on the front of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I think we’ve made a genuine amount of progress. I will say, was it odd that they included previous statements from General Colin Powell on a belief set that he no longer had? I don’t think the President would disagree with that.

Um, the DOJ is an Executive Branch department. The guy who signed the DADT brief (and the DOMA brief) Assistant Attorney General Tony West is a political appointee. Didn’t anyone learn anything from that DOMA brief debacle last June?

Last week’s DADT brief was another DOJ disaster. The brief, especially the use of Powell’s testimony, has been heavily criticized, including a hit from Rachel Maddow.

There was a follow-up question from Kerry with an answer that wasn’t helpful — and was a little hard to believe:

The Advocate: Does the President think it’s constitutional, “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GIBBS: I have not heard him talk about that.

Wait, Robert, you have not heard him talk about that? Funny how the NY Times heard in January that the President didn’t want to defend DADT before the Supreme Court:

But it was in Oval Office strategy sessions to review court cases challenging the ban — ones that could reach the Supreme Court — that Mr. Obama faced the fact that if he did not change the policy, his administration would be forced to defend publicly the constitutionality of a law he had long opposed.

It’s hard to fathom how a former constitutional law professor wouldn’t have at least broached the subject of DADT’s constitutionality in a discussion about “court cases challenging the ban.” I guess Robert Gibbs missed that meeting or didn’t see it in a minor publication like the NY Times.

Think Progress got the video of the first part:


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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