Top Senate Democrat points to White House as source of leaks

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Monday that the White House looks like the source for at least some of the classified intelligence that has been leaked to the media.

???I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks,??? Feinstein told the World Affairs Council, as reported by the Associated Press.  She said she doesn???t believe President Obama himself is the source, although no one seriously thought the President was personally picking up the phone and making surreptitious calls to journalists, or donning a slouch hat and trench coat to meet them in underground parking garages.

The list of possible suspects for the leaks is shrinking fast, because Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey gave closed-door testimony to the House Armed Services Committee last Thursday, and chairman Howard ???Buck??? McKeon (R-Calif.) pronounced himself satisfied that the Pentagon was not the source.  The Pentagon has also ???announced that it was taking new steps to try to clamp down on leaks of classified information,??? according to the AP.

It looks like Feinstein is on a collision course with the White House, which has adamantly denied it was the source for any of the security leaks, even though they look suspiciously like the sort of information a political team would pump into the media in order to polish the President???s military credentials.  ???The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive.  It???s wrong,??? President Obama declared in early June.

Senior campaign advisor David Axelrod echoed the President, saying ???there were obvious leaks, but they weren???t from the White House.???  White House spokesman Jay Carney said ???any suggestion that this Administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible.???

It???s uncertain what Senator Feinstein will do next.  She has thus far supported the Justice Department???s investigation into the leaks, although Republicans have called for a special counsel, considering both the nature of the information handed to the press and the general lack of confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder???s hyper-politicized DOJ.  While Feinstein has reportedly entertained the special prosecutor idea, she currently appears to prefer convening the Senate Intelligence Committee to create legislation designed to halt the leaks, a project they are scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was among the first to publicly accuse the White House of being the source for the leaks.  ???This is the most highly classified information, and it???s now been leaked by the Administration at the highest levels at the White House, and that???s not acceptable,??? McCain said in a June 6 CBS News interview, adding that the compromised information ???makes the President look very decisive,??? while giving ???very little credit to the other men and women who make these things happen.???  (Osama bin Laden???s elimination?  You didn???t build that, Mr. Obama.)

Senator Feinstein isn???t nearly as tough on the Obama team as McCain, but she has now publicly joined him in asserting that at least some of the classified national security information passed along to the media came from the White House.

Update: Mitt Romney will address Feinstein’s remarks in his speech to the VFW today.  Excerpts from his speech were released in advance this morning:

“It is reported that Bob Gates, the President???s first secretary of defense, bluntly addressed another security problem within this administration.  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.’  He added a colorful word for emphasis.

“Lives of American servicemen were at stake.  But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action 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.’

“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, with explanation and consequence.  Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished.  The time for stonewalling is over.

“It is not enough to say the matter is being looked into, and leave it at that.  When the issue is the political use of highly sensitive national security information, it is unacceptable to say, ‘We???ll report our findings after Election Day.’

“Exactly who in the White House betrayed these secrets?  Did a superior authorize it?  These are things that Americans are entitled to know ??? and they are entitled to know right now.  If the President believes ??? as he said last week ??? that the buck stops with him, then he owes all Americans a full and prompt accounting of the facts.

“And let me be clear:  These events make the decision we face in November all the more important.  What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain?  I???ll tell you right now:  Mine won???t.”

Update: Feinstein suddenly decided to walk her comments back after Romney quoted her in front of the VFW, releasing the following statement:

???I am 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.

???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.???

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams responded: ???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.???