By Jeremy Herb - 06/13/12 12:25 AM EDT
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused President Obama and Vice President Biden of hypocrisy Tuesday because the administration has declined to appoint a special counsel to investigate national security leaks.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy for them to oppose it,” McCain told reporters. “They all supported the appointment of a special counsel when the issue was far less serious than this one.”
Graham said Obama and Biden’s altered positions constituted “the biggest double standard in recent times.”
The harsh criticism flared as McCain introduced a resolution calling for an independent investigation and the uncommon bipartisanship lawmakers had first displayed when the issue of the security leaks came to the fore openly disintegrated.
Democrats and Attorney General Eric Holder rejected the need for a special counsel Tuesday, defending the ability of two U.S. attorneys appointed by Holder on Friday to properly investigate and prosecute the national security leaks.
“To have a fight over how we do this now will set back any leak investigation,” Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said at a Judiciary Committee hearing where Holder testified, as she declared she would oppose McCain’s resolution.
Tuesday’s hearing and resolution injected an overtly political tone into the national security leaks issue just days after members of Congress displayed a rare bipartisan outrage over what many senators said was the worst series of leaks they had seen.
The four heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees appeared last Thursday at a joint press conference touting their bipartisanship and vowing to tackle new leaks legislation together.
Republican senators say they are calling for a special counsel because the Justice Department cannot be independent if it’s investigating the Obama administration.
A handful of Republicans, led by McCain, have said the series of leaks — which appeared in recent stories about a U.S. cyberattack on Iran, a terrorist “kill list” and a double agent infiltrating al Qaeda — have been disclosed to help boost Obama’s image for his reelection campaign.
Obama said McCain’s charges were “offensive” at a press conference Friday, and the White House has called the accusations “grossly irresponsible.”
Graham pressed Holder at the hearing Tuesday to explain why he didn’t think a special counsel was necessary when it was used for the Plame case, and called for in the Abramoff case, under the Bush administration.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) stopped Graham when his time expired and argued there was a difference between the Bush administration cases and the new leaks, but Graham quickly fired back at Leahy.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if the shoe were on the other foot, you and everybody on that side would be screaming to high heaven to appoint a special prosecutor that all of us could buy into,” Graham said.
Leahy responded by saying he had “seen the talking points that the Republican candidates have — and you’ve probably used them better than anybody else,” and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Graham had gone “over the line.”
Leahy also called the hypocrisy charge unfair.
Graham’s accusations of hypocrisy stem from letters that then-Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) had signed onto regarding the Plame and Abramoff investigations. Obama signed a 2006 Democratic letter with 36 senators calling for a special counsel to investigate the Abramoff corruption scandal, and was one of two dozen senators who joined a 2005 letter that pushed for an independent congressional investigation into the Plame case.
Neither McCain nor Graham was a signatory of the letters.
Graham and other Republicans said that Holder’s record raises red flags about his own ability to remain independent.
A House panel has scheduled a vote next week to hold Holder in contempt for not providing documents to lawmakers related to a controversial gun-tracking operation known as “Fast and Furious,” and the attorney general has become a punching bag for Republicans.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who called for the attorney general to resign on Tuesday, told Holder that he questioned “whether you have the independence and ability to conduct the investigation, if in fact all of this comes back through you, and given your track record.”
When asked about Feinstein’s opposition to a special counsel, Cornyn told reporters, “Once she realizes that basically Eric Holder has appointed somebody who was a volunteer in President Obama’s political campaign, they’ll realize this is not an independent investigation.”
Cornyn was referring to U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen, who contributed to the president’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Holder defended the independence of the two U.S. attorneys investigating the leaks, and Senate Democrats on the Judiciary panel backed them up with a show of support Tuesday.
“We have people who have shown independence, an ability to be thorough, and who have the guts to ask tough questions,” Holder said.
While Holder was still testifying Tuesday, McCain took to the Senate floor, joined by Graham, to introduce his non-binding resolution that calls for a special counsel to independently investigate the leaks.
The resolution was co-sponsored by 18 Republicans and no Democrats.
“I guess the difference is we’re supposed to trust Democratic administrations and you can’t trust Republican administrations,” Graham said.
Senate Democrats blocked McCain’s resolution Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) objected after McCain asked for unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to consideration of his resolution.
McCain acknowledged that it would be difficult to get a vote on his resolution, but said he was pressing it to try to stir public outrage.
He suggested that the Obama administration was to blame for the partisan tone that the leaks investigation had taken in Congress.
“How could it be bipartisan if Republicans don’t agree with the process that’s being used now?” McCain said. “It can’t be bipartisan. We object to the failure to appoint a special counsel, just like they wanted with Valerie Plame.”