President versus senator: Obama’s role reversal on leak investigations

President Obama is experiencing a severe role reversal as Republicans in Congress are calling for the White House to appoint a special counsel to investigate a series of classified intelligence leaks.

It’s a shift from Obama’s days as a senator, when he was part of Democratic calls for a special counsel and an independent congressional review of two of the Bush administration’s biggest scandals.

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Obama signed onto a 2006 letter with 36 Democratic senators led by then Minority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) calling for the Bush Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal.

“A special counsel will ensure the public’s confidence in the investigation and prosecution and help to restore its faith in our government,” the senators wrote.

A year prior, Obama was also part of a call for congressional investigations into the Bush administration’s biggest leak — the revealing of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity.

Obama joined a 2005 letter with 24 Democrats led by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who had just been defeated in the 2004 presidential election, urging the Republican-led Congress to undertake its own investigation into the Plame scandal.

President Bush had appointed a special counsel in the Plame case in 2003, which ultimately resulted in the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby.

The circumstances of Sen. Obama’s calls for investigations into administration wrongdoing are different than the current situation that his administration faces over national security leaks.

But the calls from Congress now and when Obama was a senator have a familiar ring, as the opposition party’s senior senators — including a onetime presidential candidate — went on the offensive against an administration facing criticism.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama’s 2008 opponent, has been the most vocal critic of the recent national security leaks about a U.S. cyberattack in Iran, a terrorist “kill list” and other stories, accusing the White House of trying to boost Obama’s image.

McCain on Tuesday called for a special counsel to independently investigate the leaks, but the White House has rejected those calls.

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two prosecutors to investigate the leaks Friday.

Holder said that the Justice Department would provide congressional committees with information about its investigation, “as appropriate.”

Obama said on Friday that he has “zero tolerance” for leaks, and called claims of political motivations behind them “offensive.”

“Whenever there is classified information that is put out into the public, we try to find out where that came from,” Obama said.