Obama on Leno: Don't Overreact to Terror Threat

President Barack Obama gave an unexpectedly serious and wide-ranging interview to Jay Leno on Tuesday night, weighing in on a terror threat, U.S. tensions with Russia and even his recent lunch with Hillary Clinton on "The Tonight Show" — a venue where he was more accustomed to light-hearted joking.

Obama used his appearance on the show Tuesday, his fourth as president, to give his first public comments on recent warnings of a possible terrorist attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East, warnings that have prompted the State Department to shutter more than a dozen embassies and consulates for the week.

He reiterated the White House's warning that the threat was significant and urged Americans to act "prudently" when planning travel, according to a pool report, even as he noted that "the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident."

The president also commented on the case of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, plus the secret government data surveillance programs his leaks to the press uncovered.

"We don't have a domestic spying program," Obama said, defending some surveillance as a "critical component to counterterrorism" and saying the information it gathered was "useful."

But NBC News' correspondent Andrea Mitchell told "The Rachel Maddow Show" Tuesday that he also appeared to express some caution about the surveillance, suggesting some level of discomfort with the NSA's programs.

Obama didn't comment on the legality of Snowden's leaks. Snowden faces espionage charges for them and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia in the face of them.

Obama also confirmed to Leno that he will attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg — despite some protests that he should not, due to Russia's granting Snowden asylum, and others over Russia's new spate of laws cracking down on gay Russians' civil rights. Obama did not say whether he would meet privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, Andrea Mitchell noted on "Rachel Maddow."

Leno himself told MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell in an interview on his show "The Last Word" Tuesday night, after the Obama taping, that the question of Russia — and of its crackdown on gay rights — was one he had most looked forward to asking Obama, who was the first sitting president ever to go on the show and has been on it four times now since taking office.

Another topic Leno had most wanted to ask Obama about: The high-profile case of Trayvon Martin and his fatal shooting by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter last month.

Leno praised the president's public comments on the case and on the experiences of black men and boys in America and asked him about his remarks.

"I think all of us were troubled by what happened," Obama told Leno. "It doesn't mean Trayvon was a perfect kid. None of us were."

Obama said he thought the attention paid to the Martin shooting was indicative of how badly Americans want a fair and just criminal justice system.

"What I wanted to explain was why this was a particularly sensitive topic for the African-American community," he continued. "The system should work for everyone, and what I'm trying to do is just make sure that we have a conversation."

On "The Last Word" Tuesday night, after taping, Leno said he had been particularly interested in hearing about the comments on the shooting's impact. "He put every American in the shoes of the average black teenage boy," Leno said.

Obama's appearance on Leno's show wasn't all serious, however, and he managed to have at least some fun with the late night host — with the help of some chat about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he lunched with recently.

"Who invited who to lunch?" Leno asked.

"I invited her, and we had a great time," Obama said. "She had that post-administration glow — you know, when folks leave the White House, and two weeks later they look great."

So was Clinton, a speculated 2016 presidential contender, measuring the Oval Office drapes for a possible future stint there?

"She's been there," Obama said of the former first lady. "She doesn't have to measure them."

Check back here soon for video clips of President Barack Obama's appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

Source: NBC Los Angeles
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