Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney accused the White House of leaking classified information to the press for political gain and called for a special counsel to carry out a “full and prompt investigation” into who is responsible for dishing out the national security goods.
He made the attack just a day after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, suggested that she, too, suspected the leaks came from someone in the White House. On Tuesday, however, the California Democrat tried to take back her remarks, saying she doesn’t know and should not have speculated.
Mr. Romney’s attacks, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, marks a rare turn away from domestic issues and to foreign policy. The Republican candidate also blames the president for looming defense spending cuts and says Mr. Obama has bungled the situation in Syria.
The attack on the White House about leaks underscored a potential lingering problem for Mr. Obama, who in the past month has found himself on the defensive over several news stories — including one about a covert U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program and another on the so-called terrorist “kill list” — that appear to hinge on top-secret information.
Led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s opponent in the 2008 election, Republicans have argued that the administration leaked the material to make the president look good and that a special counsel should dig into the matter, rather than the two U.S. attorneys who Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. tapped to lead an internal investigation.
“This conduct is contemptible,” Mr. Romney said of the leaks of classified information. “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special prosecutor, with explanation and consequence.”
Asked about the remarks, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he wouldn’t comment in the middle of the investigation by the two U.S. attorneys, but that Mr. Obama condemns leaking.
“As a general matter, the president has made abundantly clear that he has no tolerance for leaks and he thinks leaks are damaging to our national security interests,” Mr. Carney said.
On Monday, Mrs. Feinstein seemed to bolster Mr. Romney’s case. In a speech to the World Affairs Council, she said that “the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
“I was asked whether the White House might be responsible for recent national security leaks,” she said. “I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information. I shouldn’t have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is I don’t know the source of the leaks.”
Noting Mr. Holder’s appointment of two U.S. attorneys to investigate the leaks, Mrs. Feinstein said she is disappointed that Mr. Romney used her comments to accuse the White House of not being more forthcoming.
“I know we are in campaign season, but I hope the investigation proceeds without political accusation or interference from anyone,” she said.
Mr. Romney delivered his speech to the VFW, meeting in Reno, Nev., a day after Mr. Obama’s own appearance, where he rattled off what he saw as his administration’s accomplishments: returning the troops from Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders and putting the nation on a course to leave Afghanistan in 2014.