Axelrod: President Obama Has “On Several Occasions Directly Confronted” Mubarak on Human Rights for the Past 2 Years “To Get Ahead of This”

In a network exclusive interview to air on Nightline tonight, we sat down this afternoon with White House senior adviser David Axelrod, the president’s closest aide, whose last day at the White House is today.

We talked about a number of issues in this exit interview, but perhaps most news-worthy were his comments on Egypt in which Axelrod suggested President Obama has for two years “directly confronted” the Egyptian president over human rights issues in order to get ahead of growing discontent among his people – a stronger characterization of President Obama’s discussions with Mubarak than we’ve so far heard from the White House.

The relevant section of the interview is below.

TAPPER: Hosni Mubarak is not a good guy and that government tortures, is repressive, doesn’t believe in the same freedoms we do and they’re also one of our closest allies in the Middle East.

AXELROD: Obviously these are the challenges of the presidency in a very difficult world. And, but the way he’s confronted it, is he went to Cairo and talked about the need, the universal human rights of people. He’s -- on several occasions directly confronted Pres. Mubarak on it. And pushed him on the need for political reform --

TAPPER: To get ahead of this.

AXELROD: -- in his country. Exactly to get ahead of this. This is a project he’s been working on for 2 years and today the president is working hard to encourage restraint and a cessation of violence against the people of Egypt.

TAPPER: With senior administration officials very pointedly suggesting future US aid to Egypt will depend on how Egypt responds. I mean, that’s a real threat.

AXELROD: Well certainly the events of the coming weeks will be taken into consideration as those decisions are made.

TAPPER: Is it difficult going from these problems being theoretical and all of sudden you’re in the chair, or the top advisor to the man in the chair, and it’s like, “We really actually -- for the best interests of the American people-- need this country to be our ally even if in so many ways they represent everything I hate”?

AXELROD: What’s obvious is that we have to deal in the world with many different countries and not all of them conform to our standard of human rights and what we need to do is be a persistent advocate for change and reform and that’s what we’ve done here. And obviously we’re monitoring this on an hourly basis in that context.

But you know, look, the president always says no easy problems come to his desk. If the problems are easy, uncomplicated, then they don’t require the attention of the president.

And the world is a complicated place, Egypt has been helpful in the region on some issues and there’s no question about that. Right now, we strongly, strongly believe that they need to restrain their security forces and police and set in motion a process to deal with the very legitimate grievances of people there.

- Jake Tapper and Max Culhane

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