Feinstein Comments on National Security Leaks Emerge as Campaign Issue
In remarks at the World Affairs Council, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed concern Monday about leaks of national security information, saying, "The White House has to understand that some of this is coming from its ranks. I don't know specifically where, but I think they have to begin to understand that and do something about it."
Referring to David Sanger's book "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power," Feinstein said, "There's one book they can read and they'll see it very clearly. And I think that should be the case."
Feinstein said that "what the president actually knows about this is difficult because with respect to intelligence he is in a bubble. He has his daily brief, called the PDB, the President's Daily Brief, early every morning. And so he gets briefing from intelligence I don't believe for a moment that he goes out and talks about it, I don't believe the briefers go out and talk about it, but who knows who else. And I think that the importance of this has to be really set by the president himself. And hopefully he will do it, and I think he'll most likely read the book and see it himself."
Asked for more detail about the senator's comments, a Feinstein aide says that when she said the leaks were "coming from its ranks," the senator was referring to the Obama administration - the federal government - in general, not specifically individuals in the White House. The aide also said that the senator does not know who the leakers were; she was assuming.
Regardless, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday made much of her remarks - and the leak issue in general - today in his speech to the VFW.
"After secret operational details of the bin Laden raid were given to reporters, Secretary Gates walked into the West Wing and told the Obama team to 'shut up,'" Romney said, also referring to a passage in Sanger's book."And he added a colorful…word for emphasis."
The passage of the book in question came after the following description:
"There was a huge and understandable hunger among the media for a play-by-play of the hunt for, and demise of, the world's most wanted man. As day broke in a stunned Washington, (White House counterterrorism adviser) John Brennan was rolled out in the White House press room to describe events that he only understood in fragmentary detail - much of it, as it turned out, suffered from the inevitable wild inaccuracy of first reports…At the Pentagon, top officers fumed at Brennan's blow-by-blow description of how the SEALs operated; they believed that the former CIA officer had given away operational secrets never shared outside the tribe. (In fact, it appears no real secrets were divulged.) No one was angrier than (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike) Mullen himself, who still fumed about that news conference nearly a year later."
Said Romney today, "Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action going on in Iran. This isn't a partisan issue; it's a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, 'I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.' End of quote."
Romney said, "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 by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence."
Feinstein today issued a statement saying she was "disappointed by the statements made by Mr. Romney today regarding a question I was asked yesterday at the World Affairs Council. I was asked whether the White House might be responsible for recent national security leaks. 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."
Feinstein went on, saying, "I'm on record as being disturbed by these leaks, and I regret my remarks are being used to impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets. I know for a fact the president is extremely troubled by these leaks. His administration has moved aggressively to appoint two independent U.S. attorneys. There is an investigation under way, and it is moving forward quickly. I know we are in a campaign season, but I hope the investigation proceeds without political accusation or interference from anyone."
Responded the Romney campaign's Ryan Williams: "It looks like President Obama has given Dianne Feinstein the Cory Booker treatment. Yesterday she was speaking candidly about the leaks originating from this White House. Today, she was forced to walk it back. As Governor Romney said today, we need a leader who will take responsibility and immediately halt these security breaches before more American lives are put in danger."