Nightly News   |  May 01, 2012

Obama: calling Bush ‘was an important symbol’

NBC’s Brian Williams spoke with President Barack Obama about how it felt to look at the image of Osama bin Laden’s dead body, and what it was like to place a call to George W. Bush after the terrorist was killed. He also speaks with Michael Leiter, Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who was in the Situation Room with the President and the national security team during the bin Laden raid. Although al-Qaida still exists, Leiter says there’s no doubt the U.S. is much safer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> when you talk about presidents using the machinery of government nine years ago tonight was the mission accomplished speech. the carrier landing by president bush off the coast of california. and here we are now after this long conflict in afghanistan. chuck todd at the white house , thanks. michael leiter served under both presidents bush and obama, and was among the few individuals in the situation room that night with the president and the national security team monitoring the bin ladin operation in realtime. michael, we woke up this mourning to this kind of vague warning about possible body bombers here in the united states . the kind of thing we're sadly used to. are we better off in the year since the death of bin ladin ?

>> i think there's no doubt we are much better off. we're better off because al qaeda is weaker and has been ever since 9/11. with the death of bin ladin , al qaeda really lost its inspirational leader, as we also found out from the raid, lost its operational driver for pushing al qaeda affiliates to attack the united states , to attack the homeland. and with his death, the pressure on those affiliates to turn back toward their local targets is much greater. i think in that sense, although al okayed saturday is still there, the u.s. is much safer one year later.

>> the situation room was part your old workplace. we were there, we brought cameras in there this past week for the first time and had conversations with basically everyone in the picture, to reconstruct that night, what they were feeling, including the president, and the exchange we want to air here from this hour long special "rock center" from tomorrow evening. i asked him about the moment the proof of death photos arrived of osama bin ladin from the s.e.a.l.s that captured him.

>> how did that feel to look at that image?

>> you know, it -- i think it's wrong to say that i did a high five, because you have a picture of a dead body . there's -- i think regardless of who it is, you always have to be sober about death. but understanding the satisfaction for the american people , what it would mean for 9/11 families, what it would mean for the children of folks who died in the twin towers who never got to know their parents. i think there was a deep seeded satisfaction for the country at that moment.

>> and then you place a call to george w. bush 43 on whose watch the attack happened. what was that like?

>> well, i think that it was an important symbol of who we are as a people. we get into these partisan fights. administrations come and go, but there's a certain come continue uity about who we are and what we care about, and what our values are. for me to be able to call my predecessor and say a lot of the work that you did under your administration was continued in my administration and there's that constant thread that ultimately leads to justice being done. i think it was symbolic of how our government should work.

>> pretty incredible to be in that room. the president stood above the chair he sat in that night. what does it conjure up when you think of that long day and night .

>> the day was such constant emotion. it was waiting, when we first got there, for the s.e.a.l.s to leave afghanistan and fly into pakistan. then there's that incredible pension as we saw that first helicopter go down. then there is the relief and satisfaction when we got the geronimo call, we know we've gotten bin ladin . there's an incredible amount of reflection on the victim, the families. and as the president noted, on the thousands of people in the bush administration and the obama administration that had focused on this for so long. and the satisfaction of that moment on behalf of those families, on behalf of all those people in the military and the intelligence community was wonderful.

>> thank you very much for being with us.

>> thank you.

>> our entire hour long special edition of "rock center inside the situation room " a deconstruction of the entire mission with the president and his security team airs tomorrow at 9:00, 8:00 central.