U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off his last official press conference Wednesday by defending his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. military officer who leaked thousands of military and diplomatic documents exposing crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” Obama said in response to a question about his decision to release her in May. “Given she went to trial, the due process was carried out, ... she took responsibility for her crime."
He branded Manning's sentence as "disproportionate," saying he feels "very comfortable that justice has been served."
The outgoing U.S. president also commented on WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, saying he did not pay much attention to the whistleblower's claims that he would hand himself over to the U.S. in return for Obama granting clemency to Manning.
When asked about U.S. relations with Russia, President Obama told reporters that it is in the interests of both parties to develop better relations. He said his administration imposed sanctions on Russia because of what he termed Moscow's "invasion" of Ukraine.
President Obama leaves office on Friday and he was relatively coy on the transition of power to President-elect Donald Trump. He refused to go into detail about his conversations with Trump, and was unsure how convincing he had been in his advice about foreign and domestic issues for the transition.
“It is appropriate for him to go forward with his vision and his values,” Obama argued, however on certain issues such as health care and job creation, they “may lead him to the same conclusions that I arrived at.”
The outgoing president refused to comment on the decision of several Democrats to boycott the inauguration, confirming he and his wife Michelle would be there.
On Cuba, the "wet foot, dry foot" policy got to a point where it no longer made sense, Obama said when asked about his decision to end the controversial immigration policy for Cubans. “Our best shot was to have the Cuban people interacting” with the U.S, he added.
When quizzed about his decision not to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, Obama said: "I continue to be worried about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The status quo is unsustainable."
Commenting on illegal Israeli settlements, he warned they were creating a situation on the ground that will increasingly make a two-state solution impossible. "The president-elect will have his own policy. The candidate for the ambassadorship obviously has very different views than I do."
"If you're going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you've thought it through," he warned Trump.
Finally, when asked about the gains and challenges surrounding same-sex marriage legalization and LGBTQ issues in the United States, Obama said: "I could not be prouder of the transformation that has taken place in our society just in the last decade.”
While he acknowledged the country faces a number of challenges, from racial and religious intolerance to the challenges posed by the incoming Trump election, he concluded by saying, “In my core, I think we're going to be OK."