Published June 11, 2012
Republican lawmakers are increasingly casting doubt on the Obama administration's claim that recent security leaks were not green-lighted by the upper echelons of the president's staff -- pointing to the news stories themselves to argue top advisers were involved in "trying to give the president glory."
Since Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that he's assigned two U.S. attorneys to investigate the leaks, President Obama and his aides have rejected the notion that the White House engineered any leak of sensitive information for political reasons. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday called that idea "wrong and absurd."
Several major news reports presumably prompted Holder's announcement. Most recently, The New York Times ran separate, heavily sourced stories on the U.S. drone program and the campaign of cyberwarfare against Iran. The Associated Press earlier reported on a failed bomb plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Based on the sourcing in the stories themselves, lawmakers say it's obvious at least some of the information came from the administration. Further, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., claims it must have come from the White House.
"It was obvious from reading the stories that the administration is trying to give the president glory," he told Fox News on Monday. "They talk about the White House Situation Room, they talk about the Oval Office, they talk about aides and advisers to the president. ... There's nobody else this could have come from."
Descriptions of sources in the two lengthy stories in the Times span the gamut, but they appeared to be highly placed.
In the first story, which ran May 29, the article on Obama's involvement in the so-killed "kill list" of drone terror targets was based on interviews with "three dozen of (Obama's) current and former advisers."
In the opening of the piece alone, the Times describes a counterterrorism meeting in January 2010 in the Situation Room. It quotes Obama asking about the age of terror suspects, "according to two officials present."
Other sections of the article quote "aides," as well as "participants" in other high-level meetings.
In the second bombshell article, this one on cyberattacks against Iran, the Times quotes "current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program," as well as "outside experts."
The sourcing pattern appeared to be similar. The Times, in one section, quotes "members of the president's national security team" who were in the Situation Room during a "tense meeting." It quotes "aides" and other "participants" in high-level meetings, as well as "architects" of the cyberattack plan.
Top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod on Sunday acknowledged that there were leaks.
"I can't say that there weren't leaks. There were obvious leaks, but they weren't from the White House," David Axelrod said on ABC's "This Week." He said the president understands that "when he commits people to missions, that their lives are at stake, and the safety of Americans are at stake -- and the last thing that he would countenance or anybody around him would countenance are leaks that would jeopardize the security of Americans on these secret missions, and the success of those missions."
He said he's confident the probe will not show White House involvement.
Axelrod told CBS News on Monday that Obama is "outraged" about the leaks.
Further, the author of the article on the cyberwarfare against Iran -- which was adapted from a forthcoming book -- has defended the reporting. David Sanger told CNN on Sunday that he doubts the leaks were political
A key point going forward, for Holder's prosecutors, will be the difference between a routine leak and a bona fide security breach. A leak by itself is not necessarily a crime, though it may be frowned upon by officials in charge. The administration, though, has tried prosecuting leaks in the past under the World War I-era Espionage Act.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., complained Monday about the fact that the drone and cyberattack programs were being discussed at all.
"Here are two of our most important, ongoing intelligence operations," McCain told Fox News on Monday. "I don't think there's any doubt that it came from the administration."
McCain joined other GOP lawmakers in calling for a special counsel to handle the case, as opposed to attorneys accountable to Holder.
Obama has rejected GOP claims. On Friday, he assailed as "offensive" and "wrong" the idea that his White House would "purposely release" classified security information.