Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) with President Obama in 2009. (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – Two Republican senators called for a formal investigation Tuesday to determine whether President Obama’s administration has leaked classified information for the sake of political gain.
Outraged by two recent articles published by the New York Times, which exposed the extent of U.S. involvement in cyber-attacks made against Iran and the White House’s secret "kill list," John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) took to the Senate floor to admonish the administration and accuse it of widespread disregard for national security.
“The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases, but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” McCain said.
“With each leak, our allies are left to wonder how much they can trust us with their secrets. Some in the administration have decided that scoring political points in an election year outweighs intelligence operations,” Chambliss added.
McCain, toeing the line between accusing the administration and reaching presumptive conclusions, said the leaks noted by the Times were of particular note and far removed from past revelations about government actions that have been deemed acceptable to release to the public.
“What separates these sorts of leaks from, say, the whistleblowing that fosters open government or a free press, is that these leaks expose no violations of law, abuses of authority or threats to public health or safety. They are merely gratuitous and utterly self-serving,” he said.
Concern over the use of classified information hasn’t been limited to Republicans, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, bringing up her worries following McCain's and Chambliss’ remarks.
“Today I sent a classified letter to the president outlining my deep concerns about the release of this information. I made it clear that disclosures of this type endanger American lives and undermine America’s national security,” she said.
Feinstein also said that she would work to include measures calling for more extensive investigations of leaks, notification of disclosures authorized by the administration and additional resources to track and prosecute those involved in the divulging of classified information in the markup of the upcoming intelligence authorization bill.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has announced that the Armed Services Committee, as mentioned by McCain, will hold a closed hearing on “recent public reports of classified information.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, when asked about the leaks in the Times' “kill list” story Monday, deflected the issue.
“I haven’t had a discussion with anybody about the article in question that you’re talking about this morning and what’s contained within it,” he said, pointing to a speech delivered by John Brennan, chief counter-terrorism advisor, for any further elaboration on leaks within the administration.
When asked about McCain's remarks Wednesday, Carney offered the following response:
"We are not going to comment on any of the specific information contained in the articles referenced by Sen. McCain. This administration takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counter-terrorism or intelligence operations. Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible."
[For the record, 2:29 p.m. PST, June 6: This post has been updated to include Carney's response to McCain's allegations.]