Aug 6, 2013

Obama on Leno: Surveillance, Russia’s gay crackdown, and Trayvon Martin

Obama on Leno: Surveillance, Russia’s gay crackdown, and Trayvon Martin
Obama on Leno. On The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, President Obama talked with host Jay Leno about everything from the Affordable Care Act and NSA leaker Edward Snowden to the economy, his relationship with Hillary Clinton, and the death of Trayvon Martin.

Leno asked the president about the ongoing skepticism for the NSA surveillance program that collects phone record metadata in order to prevent terrorist attacks. Obama firmly stated that the government has not encroached on the privacy of citizens, and that they have not “abused these powers” in any way. He added that America does not “have a domestic spying program,” but intelligence gathering is “a critical component” for a counter-terrorism program.

‘What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat, and, you know, that information is useful,” Obama said. “But, you know, what I’ve said before, you know, and I want to make sure I repeat and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy. None of the revelations show that the government has actually abused these powers, but they are pretty significant powers.”

Obama was asked about the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, and Russia’ decision to grant him asylum last week.

“I was disappointed because, even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a law breaker or alleged law breaker in their country, we evaluate it, and we try to work with them. They didn’t do that with us, and in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately,” Obama replied.

The president added that although Russia has made strides towards assisting the U.S. government in counter-terrorism work, “there have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality.”

Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum for a year has affected the president’s upcoming travel plans to Russia this September for an international G20 summit in St. Petersburg. While the president confirmed in the interview that he will be attending the summit in the fall to represent the U.S with the leading “economic powers in the world,” the White House has not definitely said whether President Obama will participate in separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Jay Leno also brought up the recent crackdown on gays in Russia, comparing the country’s treatment of homosexuality to the way Nazi Germany persecuted Jews. President Obama said he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”

“I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure that the Olympics work, and I think that they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They are athletes. They are there to compete.”

Russia has said that the anti-gay laws will be enforced during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which have sparked protests and demonstrations for boycotting the Sochi Olympics. “If Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track or in the swimming pool or on the balance beam and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Obama said Tuesday evening.

Obama told Leno that despite recent terror threats that closed nearly twenty U.S. embassies over the weekend, Americans should still feel free to travel abroad, as long as they were “prudent.” He said, “The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident.”

Elaborating on the global travel warning issued to American travelers, Obama said that “the general rule is just show some common sense and some caution.”

“So there’s some countries where you’re less likely to experience a terrorist attack. There’s some that are more dangerous and, you know, if people are paying attention, checking with the State Department or embassy, going on the website before you travel and find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations.”

Making a quip about their rivalry, Jay Leno also asked about President Obama’s lunch with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “You and Hillary had lunch…who invited who to lunch? I’m curious,” Leno asked.

“I invited her and we had a great time. She had that post administration glow. You know? When folks leave the White House like two weeks later, they look great,” Obama said.

Leno jokingly asked if Clinton measured the drapes while she was at the White House last week.

“Keep in mind she’s  been there before,” Obama reminded Leno. “She doesn’t have to measure them.”