Two lawmakers—a Democrat and a Republican—leading congressional committees on intelligence said on Sunday that the appointment of two prosecutors to investigate recent leaks about U.S. national security operations are a good start to resolving what could be a serious threat to American safety.
“They have an opportunity to do the investigation quickly, and if there were unauthorized leaks, to get to the bottom of it,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on CBS’s Face the Nation.
“It was because of the parade of leaks that Senator Feinstein and I both stood up and said, ‘Something has to be done about this and we need to close their yaps,’” agreed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.
The Navy seal mission that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the foiled plot to blow up a U.S.-bound flight from Yemen, details about the administration's “kill list” that dictates U.S. drone strikes and other cases have caused concern in Congress that United States intelligence operations are being compromised. Republicans, in particular, worry that the leaks are politically motivated to make President Obama look good.
Yet the concern about the ramifications is bipartisan, with Rogers and Feinstein both expressing the same sentiment that the leaks should be stopped with a minimum of political posturing. Some Republicans have called for a special counsel to do the investigations, but Rogers declined to go that far.
“Can you have a U.S. attorney assigned through the U.S. Attorney General to investigate something that clearly goes through the most senior levels? [These are] public leaks, self-described aides, people in the situation room. That’s a pretty small group,” he said. The prosecutor appointments are a “good start,” Rogers added, “but we need to find out if they have that independence.”
Feinstein said she takes the president at his word that the leaks did not come from within the White House. She also added a human note to the conversation. The person who helped the United States flout a planned bomb from a Yemeni aircraft was put in danger because of the leak. “His life was put in jeopardy. His family was put in jeopardy. He did us a great service. He probably prevented an airline from going down. That’s lost in all of this,” she said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on Sunday that an independent special counsel should be appointed to investigate the leaks. “I think it’s offensive what has happened," McCain said on CNN’s State of the Union. "It’s offense to the people who are doing the incredibly difficult work of intelligence. It’s offensive to our allies who are terribly upset.”
Obama said last week that “the notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive.” On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two prosecutors to investigate the leaks, but McCain said Holder’s actions don’t go far enough. “Mr. Holder’s credibility with Congress, there is none,” he said. “He is close to being held in contempt.”
Holder has had difficulty in Congress, particularly with the now-defunct Fast and Furious program along the southern U.S. border that tracked weapons sales. The operation led to a border patrol agent being killed, and Holder has spent the better part of a year apologizing to lawmakers for the failure. His difficulties are such that State of the Union host Candy Crowley used her TV time with Obama political aide David Axelrod to inquire as to whether he had advised Holder on how to manage his political image.
Axelrod said he had been incredibly careful to stay away from such conversations with Holder, well aware that there were accusations in the administration of President George W. Bush that political operatives were involved in some of DOJ’s decisions. Axelrod did say that early in Obama’s administration, he recommended a communications director for Holder, but he has rarely seen him since. “I never speak to him about issues of policy in the Justice Department.”
McCain said the leak that exposed CIA operative Valerie Plame was investigated by a special counsel, and the recent leaks about Obama’s attempts to rein in al-Qaida should receive the same treatment. “I have great respect for the two individuals that are being appointed,” McCain said. “But this requires a special counsel who is completely independent.”
On the broader question of whether the White House is leaking to bolster the public opinion about Obama, McCain would only say that the information clearly is coming from the administration—some of whom have been quoted as saying they would lose their jobs if their identities were revealed—but it is unclear whether it is under the president’s direct order. “The president is certainly responsible as commander in chief,” he said.