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By Eric Stirgus April 2, 2012

Interpretation of Obama gaffe needs better defense

President Barack Obama tried to make fun of his open-mic gaffe with his Russian counterpart during a recent meeting. But some critics thought there was nothing to laugh about.

They quickly accused Obama of behind-the-scenes deal-making with the Russians. The Washington-based news organization Politico carried an article about conservatives concerned about what Obama has in mind when he asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" until his presumed re-election in November, when Obama would have "more flexibility" on objections to America’s missile-defense plan. Obama was unaware the microphone between the two men was still on.

"This is my last election," Obama said. "After my election, I have more flexibility."

Both men nodded. Medvedev said he would pass along Obama’s message to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who will become Russia’s president in May.

While some wondered what Obama was talking about, former Georgia state Sen. Eric Johnson, now a lobbyist at the state Capitol, made it clear what Obama’s plans were in a Twitter post.

"Obama tells Russia that he’ll turn over America’s defense system to them if re-elected," Johnson wrote a day after the comments were reported. "Was he bowing when he did this? Unbelievable!"

This was news to us. There have been no news reports that Obama wants to turn over the nation’s defense system to its one-time Cold War foe. Johnson is well-known in Georgia politics. The Savannah Republican ran for governor in 2010. He was once the Georgia Senate pro tem and remains involved in politics.

Johnson maintained his position with us, saying Obama was "up to something" that could hurt U.S. allies such as South Korea if there is no missile defense system and that nation is attacked by its Communist neighbor, North Korea.

"I think I heard the same thing South Korea heard, that [Obama] is going to throw us under the bus," Johnson told PolitiFact Georgia.

The U.S. Defense Department has a Missile Defense Agency that is conducting research and developing technology to counter ballistic missiles of all ranges that may threaten the nation or its interests. The United States has cooperative programs on missile defense with a number of allies, including Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom, according to the MDA website.

Here’s how Bloomberg News described the missile system:

"In 2007, the U.S. started preparations for a missile defense system -- ostensibly against an Iranian attack -- with its front legs in Europe. The forward radar for the system was to be in the Czech Republic, and Poland would host the missiles that would shoot down any long-range ballistic missiles Iran might let fly. Russia, however, saw the shield as a naked Cold War power play by the U.S. and was mad as hell."

A day after his comments to the Russian leader, Obama said he’s committed to reducing nuclear stockpiles. A national security adviser said the White House will continue to implement the missile-defense system.

"The United States is committed to implementing our missile-defense system, which we’ve repeatedly said is not aimed at Russia," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a statement, The Washington Post reported. "The two presidents agreed it was best for technical experts to spend time determining their respective positions and provide space on missile-defense cooperation going forward."

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Vice President Joe Biden also didn't signal that the Obama administration is planning to turn over America’s missile defense system, saying Sunday on Face The Nation that it also helps Israel.

Johnson is not buying the White House line.

"I think there’s evidence of [Obama] doing everything to weaken America abroad," he said.

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney called Obama’s comments "alarming."  Romney said he wanted details about what the two leaders were discussing.

Johnson, however, took the rhetoric several steps further. His claim seems way off base from anything we’ve seen and read.

Johnson said he likes PolitiFact Georgia’s fact-checking. But he vowed to to stick with his interpretation of Obama’s off-script moment.

PolitiFact Georgia didn’t see or hear anything about Obama turning over the nation’s missile defense system. We say "nyet" to Johnson’s statement.

This one gets our lowest rating, Pants On Fire.

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