The president opened by addressing the hospitalization of George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, saying that he and Michelle Obama are sending their prayers for a speedy recovery.
President Obama also credited the press for keeping politicians honest, and said that he enjoyed working with the press corps during his time in office, despite not liking all the stories that have come out of their interactions.
After speaking briefly, the President opened himself up to questions from the press. The very first question levied to him pertained to yesterday’s announcement that he would be commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence for leaking stolen information from a secure military server to Julian Assange while she served as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years, but yesterday’s decision sets her to be released in five months, after having served only seven or so years of her sentence.
“Well, first of all, lets be clear. Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence, so the notion that the average person that was thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished… I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served.” President Obama answered the reporter.
“The sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received,” Obama said. “It made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence.”
In regard to Julian Assange’s tweet suggesting that he would turn himself in to the United States if Manning was released, Obama did not respond as to whether or not charges would be pursued against him.
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange’s tweets, so that wasn’t a consideration in this instance. And I’d refer you to the Justice Department for any criminal investigations, indictments, extradition issues that may come up with him.”
When asked to address concerns about President Elect Donald Trump’s policies, particularly in regard to health insurance and unemployment, President Obama said we might see a change in some of Donald Trump’s views.
“Once he comes into office and he looks at the complexities of how to in fact provide healthcare for everybody, something he says he wants to do, or wants to make sure that he is encouraging job creation and wage growth in this country, that may lead him to some of the same conclusions that I arrived at once I got here,” Obama said. “But I don’t think we’ll know until he has an actual chance to get sworn in and sit behind that desk.”
He went on to describe the phone conversations that he’s had with the incoming president, describing them as cordial and, at times, “lengthy.”
The president was then asked about President Elect Trump’s suggestion that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if they would negotiate a reduction in their nuclear arsenal. The President first pointed out that the sanctions were not put in place as a result of Russia’s nuclear weapons program.
“The reason we imposed the sanctions, recall, was not because of nuclear weapons issues, it was because the independence and sovereignty of a country, Ukraine, had been encroached upon by force, by Russia. That wasn’t our judgment, that was the judgment of the entire international community.”
He did suggest, however, that there was room to work with Russia regarding their nuke stockpile, while suggesting that the United States needs to continue to work in reducing our own.
“If President-elect Trump is able to restart those talks in a serious way, I think there remains a lot of room for our two countries to reduce their our stock piles. And part of the reason we’ve have been successful on our non-proliferation agenda and on our nuclear security agenda, is because we were leading by example. I hope that continues.”
The president was also asked about Democrats choosing to boycott the inauguration, but he chose not to comment on the subject, instead simply saying that he and his wife would be present for the ceremony.
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