A sterling example of a juicy question that leads inevitably to a paint-by-numbers answer. It’s like asking if a terrorist should be tortured in a true ticking-bomb scenario. “Obviously, we’d have to look at all the facts and balance our revulsion towards torture with the need to protect the American people,” blah blah blah blah.

He can’t say that he won’t look into it or else he’s committing to ignoring possible criminality (not to mention denying his base their erotic fantasy of Bush being frogmarched away) but he can’t promise to launch a major investigation or else he’s bound to it and sidetracked in a war with the Republicans from day one. So he gives the only response he can give realistically, one which Maverick himself would likely be forced to approximate if asked.

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can’t prejudge that because we don’t have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You’re also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment — I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General — having pursued, having looked at what’s out there right now — are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it’s important– one of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law — and I think that’s roughly how I would look at it.

I.e. no, it’s virtually certain that he won’t go after anyone lest it set a precedent for partisan prosecutions by incoming administrations in the future, but to borrow a choice term from a paint-by-numbers answer in the foreign policy vein, all options must remain on the table. Zzzzz.