OTR Interviews

Sen. Graham: Someone at White House is orchestrating classified leaks to make Pres. Obama look good

Leading Republicans calling for an investigation into leaks of classified information on U.S. intelligence operations

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 6, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Allegations are rocking Washington tonight. Is the White House leaking information for political reasons to make President Obama look better politically? Now, according to President Obama's 2008 opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain, the answer is yes. Senator McCain says recent news stories about President Obama's attempts to derail Iran's nuclear program with cyber-attacks and reports of a terror "kill list" are damaging to our national security and politics are behind the leaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations. And in this sense, it compromises our national security. For this reason, regardless of how politically useful these leaks may have been to the president, they have to stop. These leaks have to stop!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: White House press secretary Jay Carney says any claims that they are leaking information for political gain is grossly irresponsible.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham joins us. Nice to see you, sir.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Glad to be here.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, there are two -- I mean, first of all, the question is whether there are leaks. That's the first thing. The second thing is, if there are leaks, is it just sloppy or someone going rogue or is it being done for some political advantage? Neither is particularly good, but one is much worse than the other.

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what's going on here. You've had three leaks of intelligence that paint the president as a strong leader. You talk about a May plot that was disrupted, where you have the Yemen underwear bomber trying to develop a new form of bombs that would be undetected, talked about a double agent that connected to Saudi Arabia and Britain. And that story was about how the Obama administration saved us all.

You have another story about cyber-attacks against Iran, very specific programs that we're engaged in, in sharing the technology with Israel. Then you have the story about how the president looks over each drone attack and approves it himself.

So I don't think it's an accident that you have three stories within about 45 days that paint the Obama administration as being effective in the war on terror at our national security detriment.

VAN SUSTEREN: See, I don't understand what the motivation to do it politically -- I mean, if anything, give it to the president, he got Usama bin Laden. He certainly is not reluctant to send drones. You can see by the effects. You got the number two guy today with a drone. So I mean, that isn't exactly -- I would think -- back his short suit in his hand. His bigger problem is the economy. Unless you're trying to use the national security as a distraction from the economy...

GRAHAM: You know, I...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... it doesn't make any sense to me.

GRAHAM: I'm with you. I would be the first to say, Well done on bin Laden. I'd be the first to say the drone attacks are good tactical programs. You're doing a good job with the drones.

He did a lousy job of leaving Iraq early. You're not taking Assad on. And how do the Iranians ever believe we're going to do something with them if we leave Iraq in chaos and we won't deal with Assad and all we talk about us leaving Afghanistan?

Strategically, this president's made a mess of things. But tactically, the drone attacks, the bin laden raid were all good things.

But these leaks have one common thing. They're painting this president right before his election as a strong leader on national security. They're doing it in a way that our allies will not help us in the future. They're putting people at risk.

This Pakistani doctor -- how do we know about this? Somebody leaked the fact that the doctor was helping us find bin laden, and he's in jail for 33 years.

Senator McCain's right. There's a political advantage trying to be created from these leaks. It needs to stop. People's lives are at risk.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, but there's -- there's a difference between -- I mean, there's national security and there's also being a leader in the world so that we command respect so there'll be greater influence and remain a superpower...

GRAHAM: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and there's the economy. Those are three distinct issues, right?

GRAHAM: Sure. Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so -- I mean, national security is the one I'd say that he's got the least problem with because knock on wood...

GRAHAM: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and we're lucky and we haven't been hit by anything and he's gotten these -- he's gotten these terrorists.

GRAHAM: I would argue that he's got a major problem, that he's handled Iraq poorly. We withdrew from Iraq. It's about to fall apart. The Iranians...

VAN SUSTEREN: That's the -- that's the other category, I mean, how he's handled sort of world diplomacy and how we're seen.

GRAHAM: You have strategic and tactical decisions. On the tactical level, getting bin laden was a great decision by the president. Tactically, these drones attacks have disrupted al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

Strategically, we've let Syria get out of control. We fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line on Iraq after we stabilized the country. He screwed that up, and quite frankly, all we do is talk about leaving Afghanistan.

But the point of these articles -- how could you say it's not about making him look strong? These articles have a common theme. They talk about programs in the Obama administration, very sensitive programs, and they're trying to portray this administration as very strong on national security at the detriment of our own national security.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I don't mean to undermine -- I mean, even Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein...

GRAHAM: Dianne Feinstein's been a hero here.

VAN SUSTEREN: She's -- she's upset about...

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... Carl Levin...

GRAHAM: We're going to have hearings about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: This -- I mean, I realize there are going to be hearings about it. Do you think it's President Obama himself, or is this someone, you know, beneath...

GRAHAM: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... him in the sort of chain? I mean, everyone keeps talking about President Obama doing it.

GRAHAM: I think -- the question that Senator McCain asked, Is it done for political reasons? How could you say it's not? The stories...

VAN SUSTEREN: But who gets blamed?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't know who's responsible.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) I mean.

GRAHAM: Well, we're going to have a hearing. Somebody in the White House. Somebody connected to the highest level of the Obama administration has decided to leak three different scenarios that make the president look like a strong national security leader at the detriment of operations going on throughout the world.

The Saudis and the Brits are less likely to help us in the future because this was supposedly a double agent. What country is going to provide help to America if they read about their help in The New York Times?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I -- I -- don't get me wrong. I agree the leaks are horrible. And they jeopardize our national security -- this...

GRAHAM: Yes, ma'am.

VAN SUSTEREN: The only thing that's a little bit different, I'm wondering, is that the accusation that it's politically motivated, and to suggest it's President Obama -- it may -- you know, it -- those are different considerations...

GRAHAM: I don't think the president called up the reporter. But look at the stories. If you talk about people inside the Situation Room talking to reporters on background that were in a meeting with the president, a blow-by-blow description of how you decide which targets to hit, which baseball cards to act on...

VAN SUSTEREN: So are you suggesting he's up to his eyeballs in these leaks? I guess that's what I'm asking.

GRAHAM: I'm suggesting somebody in the White House is orchestrating an effort to leak classified information and programs to make the president look good. To think otherwise is just absurd. These three stories within 45 days of each other, or less than that, paint a portrait of an administration effectively fighting terrorism, talking about disrupting a bomb plot that would have put us all at risk...

VAN SUSTEREN: You know...

GRAHAM: ... and a cyber-attack on Iran that's trying to develop a nuclear weapon. And you throw Israel into the mix. You talk about how you attack an Iranian nuclear program, what kind of technology...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so...

GRAHAM: ... you use...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, one quick question before I've got to go to break is...

GRAHAM: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... this -- Democrats run the U.S. Senate. You say there'll be hearings. Will -- will Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein hold -- will they push for the hearings?

GRAHAM: I think so.

VAN SUSTEREN: Will there be hearings before the election?

GRAHAM: Let me tell you, if this happened on Republican president's watching, I would be asking for hearings...

VAN SUSTEREN: Before election?

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now. Now. All right.

GRAHAM: Yes, ma'am, I would. This is egregious. It has to be dealt with. And the Congress in a bipartisan way is rightly offended. We need to get to the bottom of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.