President Obama on Friday rebuked critics who have suggested the White House purposely leaked national security information to help his reelection campaign.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong, and people, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans have called for a special counsel to investigate the leaks, a move the White House rejected on Thursday.
McCain said in a statement Friday that he was unsatisfied with Obama's assurances about the source of the leaks.
“What the president did not unequivocally say today is that none of the classified or highly sensitive information recently leaked to the media came from the White House," McCain said. "I continue to call on the president to immediately appoint a special counsel to fully investigate, and where necessary, prosecute these gravely serious breaches of our national security.”
The FBI opened an investigation this week into the leaks, but House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said there were concerns that sources of the leaks could be involved in the investigations.
Obama said the White House has “mechanisms in place” to “root out” people who leak national security information.
“We will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past,” Obama said.
McCain has accused the White House of leaking information for political gain to help Obama’s reelection, accusations that White House press secretary Jay Carney labeled “grossly irresponsible.”
On Thursday evening, McCain signaled he plans to introduce a Senate resolution calling for a special counsel to investigate the leaks, saying in a Fox News interview that he could unveil the non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution as early as Monday.
Obama pushed back against the accusations from his 2008 presidential opponent, saying that he has “zero tolerance” for leaks. He said it's a source of "consistent frustration" for both his and previous administrations.
“When this information or reports, whether true of false, surface on the front page of newspapers — that makes the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher, and it makes my job tougher, which is why since I've been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation,” Obama said.
The president would not confirm that investigations of the recent leaks are under way, saying simply, “whenever there is classified information that is put out into the public, we try to find out where that came from.”
Democrats have blasted the leaks for harming U.S. national security, but Democratic lawmakers have joined the White House to reject accusations of political motivations behind the disclosures.
But they have been more hesitant about weighing on whether a special counsel is needed. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she needed more time to decide whether that step should be taken.
Lawmakers from both parties say they will pursue legislation aimed at cracking down on national security leaks.
— This story was updated at 12:23 p.m. and 3:23 p.m.