Obama Denies Claims White House Is Involved In Leaks

By: CNN Posted By: Stephanie Schultz
By: CNN Posted By: Stephanie Schultz

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama strongly rejected claims Friday that his White House has deliberately leaked state secrets to the media, saying the idea was "offensive" and would put Americans at risk.

Some Republicans, led by veteran Sen. John McCain of Arizona, alleged that the White House must be knowingly involved because of the nature of the leaked information.

But Obama pushed back angrily as he was questioned on the issue at a news conference, saying that he had "zero tolerance" for such leaks and that those responsible would "suffer consequences."

"The notion that the White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive, 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 approach this office," he said.

"We are dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people -- our families or our military or our allies -- and so we don't play with that."

Intelligence leaks are a source of consistent frustration for his administration as they have been for others, he said, and the White House will carry out "thorough investigations."

In response, McCain said Obama was distancing himself from the controversy.

"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."

A report in The New York Times last week that provided classified details of what it described as a U.S cyberattack targeting Iran's nuclear centrifuge program sparked the bipartisan outrage.

Obama also repeated the statements made by the writers of the articles in question that the White House was not the source of their information.

Other recent possible leaks of classified information included details on the administration's efforts to expand its drone program and Obama's involvement in "kill lists" against militants in Yemen and Pakistan.

The public airing of details surrounding a recently disrupted bomb plot in Yemen by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also angered intelligence and national security officials.

Congressional leaders said earlier Friday that those responsible for endangering national security by leaking classified information to the media should be sent to jail.

Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said that it was not yet known who was behind the leaks but that someone "committed a crime that is having serious consequences to our national security."

Bipartisan efforts are needed to identify whoever is responsible for the leaks, involving a cyberwarfare program against Iran and other intelligence matters, and "make sure that leaker goes to jail."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House panel, echoed Rogers' call for the leaker to be "held accountable."

Rogers and Ruppersberger, along with the senior lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday to discuss the situation.

Rogers said he believes that an outside investigation is necessary to find those responsible, in case someone in the chain of command is involved in the leaking.

However, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence panel, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, expressed reluctance Thursday to immediately seek a special prosecutor.

Clapper and "every member of the leadership team in the intelligence community" are angry about the series of leaks, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate panel, said after their meeting.

Speaking in the House on Friday, Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama asked, "where is the outrage from the White House about these leaks?"

He called for the White House "to get off the campaign trail, show leadership, do the president's job and aggressively pursue the leakers of America's state secrets."

Leaks not only compromise national security efforts, they discourage allies from trusting in the United States, Brooks said. "It's time for the president to plug the holes and protect America's national security," he said.

Rogers said Friday that the recent leaks are "a hundred times the magnitude" of those in the Valerie Plame case and that "someone needs to pay a price for this crime."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted in 2007 in connection with the leaking of CIA officer Plame's identity -- information that was technically classified, though Cheney later implied that information had been declassified.

Ruppersberger said it was vital that bipartisan efforts were made to "follow the facts wherever they go" but reiterated that the source of the information was not known.

"These leaks have been occurring more and more," he said, adding that they were the worst he had seen in nearly 10 years on the intelligence panel.

The leaks could come from within Congress or the executive branch, he acknowledged. He said it was too soon for a special prosecutor to be appointed, since such an investigation could take a long time and be very costly.

The Intelligence Committee leaders met later Thursday with FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose agency is investigating the leaks, according to legislators. The U.S. attorney in Washington also is investigating, Feinstein said.

After the briefing from Clapper, the four committee leaders said they were united in their commitment to address the problem.

Rogers said that problems were uncovered in his panel's investigation of an unspecified leak, and that the committee "has materials suggesting that agencies were directed to expand the scope of classified information they gave to the press."

"We know, in some cases, someone from a segment of the media was present in a classified setting," Rogers said without elaborating.

Pressed Friday on the subject, he would say only that, in that example, the presence of an individual from a "media or medium" at a particular event was "inappropriate at best and may have violated other rules or laws as well."

Rogers said there appeared to be a "pattern of leaks" and a culture of "trying to feed the media things that are classified." He said he was confident that the source of the leaks could be found in a fair and bipartisan way.

The Senate panel is expected to add leak provisions to the fiscal year 2013 intelligence authorization bill this month. Although the House has passed a version of the bill without the leak provisions, they probably would be added during negotiations with the Senate on a final version.

In its report Friday, The New York Times said that since shortly after he became president, Obama has ordered cyberattacks targeting computers that run Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities. It attributed the information to participants in the program.

McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, alleged that the White House authorized the leaks for political gain.

"These leaks clearly were not done in the interest of national security or to reveal corrupt or illegal actions about which the public has a right to know, as in the case of legitimate whistleblowers," McCain said. "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that these recent leaks of highly classified information, all of which have the effect of making the president look strong and decisive on national security in the middle of his re-election campaign, have a deeper political motivation."

The White House pushed back, with spokesman Jay Carney saying that "this administration takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations."

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is also adamant that no one at the White House or in Democratic politics was involved in the leaks.

"I know that people at the White House were not involved," he said Wednesday.

Since Obama took office in January 2009, his administration has greatly increased use of the Espionage Act to prosecute alleged leakers of classified information.

Six prosecutions have been launched under the act by the administration, which is double the total from all previous administrations, according to Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists.

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