White House leaks meet growing outrage
Politico -- by MJ Lee
The protests in Congress over national security leaks are growing louder.
“I don’t think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is going on here. You’ve had three leaks of intelligence that paint the president as a strong leader,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News on Wednesday night.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that you have three stories within about 45 days that paint the Obama administration as being effective in the war on terror at our national security detriment,” Graham added.
Following Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) call for an investigation this week into the recent leak of classified information on U.S. intelligence operations, a host of other troubled lawmakers from both parties are voicing their concerns.
And with the controversy quickly gaining steam, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is set to meet on Thursday with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the leaks, while a bipartisan group of lawmakers that sit on intelligence panels from both the House and Senate are scheduled to hold a rare joint press conference later in the afternoon.
The leaks in question concern information about drone programs in Yemen, as well as a terrorist “kill list” personally approved by President Barack Obama and details of possible cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear program — which were revealed by The New York Times. The FBI is also reportedly looking into the matter.
The White House is defending itself from charges that members of the administration revealed classified information to the media. “Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible,” press secretary Jay Carney said.
Despite Carney’s strong pushback on the allegations that the leaks were politically motivated, there is nevertheless a sense on Capitol Hill that the details of classified information found in some of the stories in question – including play-by-plays of how certain decisions were made or exact quotes from conversations that took place among the administration’s highest officials – could only have come from those who have the president’s ear.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has accused the White House for cooperating too closely with filmmakers on a movie about the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, called the recent leaks were “unprecedented” in an interview with POLITICO Thursday.
“I’ve never seen such a cascading of leaks. Either Intentionally or inadvertently, there’s always going to be the occasional leak, the one sentence leak, but I’ve never seen such detail coming out while a program, if it exists, is ongoing,” he said. “Direct quotes from people and the details from the New York Times story … all of this type of thing is to me unprecedented.”
King, agreeing with his Republican colleagues that the administration is trying to seize opportunities to make the president look like a strong foreign policy leader, said he supports McCain’s call for a special counsel to head a thorough investigation into the matter.
“I’ve had a reluctance over the years to support special councils but this may be one case where it’s really warranted because the attorney general is so politically involved with the administration and this can very well go to the heart of the administration,” he said.
The concern that Obama administration officials would not be suited to oversee a fair investigation of leaks that may have come from those who work closely with the president was echoed by other Republicans on Thursday. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), for example, made clear that he also wouldn’t trust Attorney General Eric Holder to head a probe.
“The natural tendency of the administration when it’s the subject of the investigation … is to circle the wagons,” Cornyn said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “I don’t believe that Attorney General Holder or his deputy are going to be able to do a truly independent investigation.”
The Texas lawmaker cautioned that the recent developments threatened what he considers the country’s two most sensitive areas of national security: stopping the Iranian nuclear threat and fighting Al Qaeda. “So this is very serious stuff and I don’t think we can just let the White House investigate itself or take its word for it that it is not the source of these leaks,” he added.
In his interview on Fox, Graham had also echoed McCain’s warnings from earlier in the week the information leak puts the country’s security at risk and damages U.S. relations with allies.
“These leaks have one common thing — they are painting this president, right before his election, as a strong leader on national security,” he said. “They are doing it in a way that our allies will not help us in the future. They are putting people at risk.”
The nature of the information that was recently published — including details of conversations that took place in the Situation Room — suggest that “somebody connected to the highest level of the Obama administration” is giving away details about classified operations, Graham said.
“I am suggesting somebody in the White House is orchestrating an effort to leak classified information in programs to make the president look good,” he said. “To think otherwise is just absurd.”
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is also criticizing the release of classified information, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, lashed out at what she called “an avalanche of leaks .”
“It’s very, very disturbing. You know, it’s dismayed our allies. It puts American lives in jeopardy. It puts our nation’s security in jeopardy,” the California senator said Wednesday.
The Armed Services Committee is set to hold hearings on the controversy.
The leaks also raise questions about whether the press has a responsibility to refrain from publishing information that could threaten the country’s security — regardless of how the details may been obtained, according to some lawmakers.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Wednesday expressed his concern about The Times’ decision to run with a story about Obama ordering cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear program.
“I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman told reporters. “To me, it was such a nitty-gritty fundamental national security issue. And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it. I do see how other interests outside the United States are well served by it.”
The Times stood by its decision, saying in a statement that the paper’s responsibility is to “report issues in the public interest,” and that the publication has met that standard.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned Thursday against placing blame on the administration before a full investigation has been carried out.
“That’s a very serious charge that’s been made against the administration,” Casey said on CNN. “This charge is made in every administration. Sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it should lead to accountability and sanctions, but we’re — I think we’re at the very early stages of this. I don’t want to prejudge it.”
Still, Casey made clear that there would be serious punishment for anyone who is discovered to have shared classified information with the press. “If someone working for me leaked information like this, I would make sure they were sanctioned severely,” he said.