Feinstein fires back at McCain as parties battle over security leaks

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was wrong to accuse President Obama of hypocrisy for opposing a special counsel to investigate recent national security leaks.

“Senator McCain has his way of saying things,” Feinstein told reporters. “He’s a United States senator — he can certainly say what he wants. I don’t happen to agree with that.”

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Feinstein’s pushback against McCain’s hypocrisy charge comes as a major divide has opened between Democrats and Republicans over how to investigate a series of national security leaks, including disclosures about a U.S. cyberattack against Iran, a “kill list” and a double agent in Yemen.

Both Feinstein and McCain are in agreement that the recent series of intelligence leaks is the worst cases they have seen as senators — more egregious than the Valerie Plame CIA leak under the George W. Bush administration.

The partisan fight that’s broken out over the leaks this week stems from deep disagreement over the best way to get to the bottom of the security leaks and Republican anger toward perhaps the most contentious figure in the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder.

Republicans allege that the leak investigation Holder announced Friday, in which two U.S. attorneys will investigate and possibly prosecute the leaks, will not be an independent investigation.

McCain on Tuesday said it was the “height of hypocrisy” for Obama to oppose a special counsel when Obama called for independent investigations of the Plame and Jack Abramoff scandals during the Bush administration.

McCain has introduced a nonbinding resolution demanding a special counsel to investigate the leaks.

Republicans on Tuesday pressed Holder, who could face a contempt of Congress vote in the House Oversight Committee next week, to explain why he and Obama did not think a special counsel is appropriate.

McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) cited calls for independent investigations from then-Sens. Obama (Ill.) and Joe Biden (Del.) during the Plame and Jack Abramoff investigations in the Bush administration.

“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 told Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) at Tuesday’s hearing.

Democrats, including Feinstein, have rejected the charges from Republicans. They say that the two U.S. attorneys appointed, D.C.’s Ronald Machen and Maryland’s Rod Rosenstein, will operate independently and fairly.

On Wednesday, Feinstein defended the Justice Department investigation and chided Republicans for sparking a political fight over it.

“The thing that worriers me is to spend time fighting over this makes no sense,” she said. “I don’t understand why there needs to be a break with the administration on this point. We all want the same thing. We want to know what leaks were there, who leaked, what was the effect of it and what is the culpability.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dismissed McCain’s accusations Tuesday as a political ploy, calling it an “insincere attempt to embarrass the president.”

Reid and other Democrats have highlighted the fact that the Obama administration has been the most aggressive in history at prosecuting leakers, such as Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of bringing to light the WikiLeaks documents.

Feinstein, who was on the letter with Obama in 2006 calling for a special counsel to investigate the Abramoff scandal, said Wednesday that she believed the two U.S. prosecutors are better for conducting a speedy investigation.

She said the U.S. attorneys would not face political pressures from the Obama administration and would “call the shots as they see them.”

“We can move ahead much more rapidly,” Feinstein said. “Instead of one special prosecutor, you essentially have two here, one is the Yemeni situation and the other is the Iranian cyber situation. I think you’re going to get there much quicker.”

While most of the attacks against the leak investigation have focused on Holder, Republicans have also keyed in on Machen, questioning his ability to operate independently as a past Obama donor.

Machen gave $4,350 to Obama’s presidential and Senate campaigns, all of which came before he was appointed as a U.S. attorney.

Feinstein on Wednesday rejected the charge that Machen, who recently led the investigation that led to the resignation of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, cannot be independent because he was an Obama contributor.

“First of all there are so many contributions, one little contribution isn’t going to make that kind of difference anyway, in the millions of campaign contributions that a candidate for president gets,” Feinstein said.