RENO, Nev. – Sensing a new political vulnerability for President Obama, Mitt Romney on Tuesday sought to weaken Obama’s foreign policy credentials by pinning blame for the leaking of national-security secrets squarely on the president and his administration.
"This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation, with explanation and consequence,” Romney said of the leaks in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. “It is not enough to say the matter is being looked into, and leave it at that. When the issue is the political use of highly sensitive national security information, it is unacceptable to say, ‘We’ll report our findings after the election.’”
The former Massachusetts governor drew on remarks by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said that the White House appears to have been the source of some of the leaks. The leaks included highly classified details of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Feinstein’s office, however, released a statement following Romney’s speech that said she was “disappointed” by Romney’s statements and that she does not believe Obama leaked classified information.
Romney also argued that Obama appointees who answer to Attorney General Eric Holder – a favorite punching bag for Republicans -- should not be allowed to investigate the source of the leaks.
At the same time, he sought to yoke Obama to a set of steep upcoming defense cuts, which were scheduled as part of a bipartisan agreement last summer between the president and Congress to raise the debt ceiling. He said the cuts would impair the nation's ability to fend off threats.
"Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. Strategy is not driving President Obama’s massive defense cuts," Romney said. "These cuts would only weaken an already stretched VA system and our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none. I will not allow that to happen."
Obama also brought up the defense cuts in his own speech to the VFW on Monday, though he blamed Congress for sacrificing defense spending in order to avoid raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans through the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
"Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they'd rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military. And I've got to tell you, VFW, I disagree,” he said in his speech.
Romney, in an interview with CNBC on Monday, said he would extend the tax cuts. He has advocated his own defense buildup, including an increase in the size of the U.S. Navy and the addition of 100,00 active duty troops, but has not specified how he would pay for either expenditure aside from articulating a broad assumption that his policies would improve the economy and raise revenue.
Much of the VFW speech followed in that fashion as a broad critique of the president’s policies. One of the lone new policy proposals detailed in the speech was a call for Iran to fully suspend any uranium enrichment.
“There is no greater danger in the world today than the prospect of the ayatollahs in Tehran possessing nuclear weapons capability. Yet for all the talks and conferences, all of the extensions and assurances, can anyone say we are farther from this danger now than four years ago?” Romney asked, though the sanctions cleared by the president at the end of March were intended to sharply reduce Iranian oil exports.
The Obama campaign, in a tweet during Romney’s speech, argued that the sanctions are “the toughest sanctions in Iran’s history…and they’re working.”
Romney spent just a few minutes of his speech discussing his policy for ending the war in Afghanistan. He offered the same broad overview of how he would prosecute the remainder of the war – by listening to the advice from commanders on the ground.