• This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," April 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Coming up on "The Journal Editorial Report," presidential poison. Why Barack Obama's opening to prosecute Bush officials for torture will haunt his presidency.

    Plus, cyber wars. Spies breach the Pentagon's fighter jet program, the latest in a string of potentially deadly computer attacks.

    And pay-to-play scandals are popping up all over America. This week, a closer look at the one that ensnared the president's car czar.

    "The Journal Editorial Report" begins right now.

    Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report," I'm Paul Gigot.

    Call it the day that any chance of bipartisanship in Washington may have officially ended. President Barack Obama on Tuesday left open the door to investigating and prosecuting the Bush administration officials who devised the legal authority for so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. In a reversal of what his chief of staff had said two days earlier, the president said the question of whether to bring charges against those officials would fall to an Attorney General Eric Holder.

    The response from the left was swift, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy calling for a 9/11-style commission to investigate and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers promising to begin public hearings soon.

    Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

    Kim, Rahm Emanuel is the chief of staff of the president of the United States. Why would he say something on a Sunday and two days later have the president essentially contradict him?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I'm sure that's what Rahm Emanuel was advising because he probably had a sense of what was going to happen. Look, the president overruled him here. He clearly decided that he was going to try to placate his left wing groups who, by the way, are unhappy about other decisions the Obama administration has taken on national security, continuing some of the former Bush policies. He also decided that he was going to placate liberal members in Congress, who are demanding that they can put Bush officials up on the chopping block. And these are some of the officials, the congressmen he's going to look to help him pass some his key legislation.

    GIGOT: But why take the risk of inflaming Republicans and national security hawks, who he's going to need. He's going to need their support on Afghanistan down the road. He's going to need their support if he runs into trouble on funding the different Defense Department policies and other things. And this is really going to inflame them. Why take that risk? Why does he need to appease the left?

    STRASSEL: He doesn't. Look, I think this was a miscalculation. I think they honestly thought that they could throw this out there and make the left happy, but it was always going to be this way. They have created a bonfire. We now have questions what Congress knew, when they knew it. You can't have investigations like this that don't look into the CIA, lower down officials on the CIA and the Bush officials and Congress. So he's ignited something big here and it was a misjudgment.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah, the problem is that this is his style of so-called presidential leadership. He is always on both sides of the issue. He did that in the campaign. And in that Tuesday press conference, when he said that he would allow Attorney General Holder to make the decision, he then followed up by saying, I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively. That's our position. He has our position. He has their position.


    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, I think part of the problem here is that Obama hasn't made up his mind as to whether he wants to govern or whether he wants to campaign and if he wanted to govern, he would squash...

    GIGOT: But you're saying this is not a question so much of ideology on Obama's part. it may be a question of character, willing to stand up and say, you know what, I'm going to stand up to the forces that want this retribution and revenge.

    STEPHENS: You know, it's interesting. This is an exact replay of the AIG play of about a month ago. When...

    GIGOT: With bonuses, the uproar over bonuses.

    STEPHENS: Exactly. But remember, just as with Tim Geithner playing the role that Rahm Emanuel is playing, saying that the bonuses were legal, they had to go forward. Two days later, you had Obama contradicting one of top lieutenants.