McCain: DOJ probe of security leaks not focusing on senior White House officials

Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) blasted the Justice Department on Wednesday, accusing it of not properly investigating national security leaks they say originated in the White House.

The GOP lawmakers charged that the DOJ probe had wasted time and resources focusing on lower-level government employees instead of those at senior levels of the administration.

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“Having conducted a few high-profile investigations myself ... I am frankly puzzled that the Justice Department would start these investigations by interviewing the total universe of officials who had access to the leaked information — when the articles and books that publicized the leaked information specifically cited scores of closed, high-level meetings attended by a relatively small number of senior officials,” McCain said on the floor Wednesday.

“Surely, the Justice Department isn’t planning to interview the more than 4.8 million federal government and contractor employees who have, or are eligible for, security clearances on these leaks, is it,” McCain added. 

The Arizona senator called on the Justice Department to ramp up its investigation and focus on those at the top of the intelligence chain, suggesting that delays would hurt the public’s confidence in the probe.

“Every day that goes by without the Justice Department’s getting to the bottom of what happened and holding people publicly accountable is another day that our allies and other friends who assisted us in the classified operations that were leaked will continue to second-guess our willingness to correct what happened and make sure that it never happens again.”

Both Republicans accused senior members in the White House of leaking classified information that put people’s lives at risk for political reasons — an accusation that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called “inappropriate” and “plain wrong” during the debate on the Senate floor.

Classified information about counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda and a cyberattack on Iranian nuclear program computers surfaced in news reports in June, sparking congressional anger.

Two U.S. attorneys selected by Attorney General Eric Holder are investigating the leaks, but Republicans have pressed for an independent probe.

“Are we going to allow our attorney general ... to appoint two U.S. attorneys to investigate the very White House that appointed him,” Graham said. “I don’t trust this White House to investigate themselves ... I think this reeks of a cover-up.”

Durbin defended the administration.

“The president takes it seriously ... to suggest otherwise on the floor of the Senate is just plain wrong,” Durbin said. “This is not being swept under the rug, this is being taken seriously by the administration.”

The Illinois senator said the GOP was focusing on the issue ahead of the elections to embarrass the president, while Republicans have suggested the administration leaked the information to bolster Obama’s foreign-policy credentials.

“When leaks take place around this town, the first question you have to ask is who benefits from this,” McCain said.

Both McCain and Graham mentioned that Democrats called for special council investigations during former President George W. Bush’s administration.

“You can’t trust Republicans, but you can trust Democratic administrations?” Graham asked.

“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of credibility with the American people whether an administration can actually investigate itself,” McCain added.

White House officials initially denied that any leaks originated from the administration. But last month, senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod  said that the president did not "authorize" anyone at the White House to disclose classified information. 

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last month initially suggested that the leaks were coming from the White House, before walking back her statements.

The leaks have also been an issue in the presidential race, with GOP candidate Mitt Romney leaping on the leaks and accusing Obama of putting the nation at risk. In an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) last week, Romney called for a special counsel to probe the matter.