Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein's reputation for toughness when it comes to cracking down on national security leaks is bringing her dangerously close to butting heads with the White House. As Reuters' Mark Hosenball and Susan Cornwell report, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman is considering joining Republican calls for an outside investigation of U.S. national security leaks, but according to a transcript from the White House's Thursday press briefing, President Obama is adamantly opposed to such an investigation.
On Thursday, Feinstein joined the House intelligence committee's Republican chairman Mike Rogers and Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger for a rare Capitol Hill press conference to lament a series of leaks regarding President Obama's classified "kill list" and CIA cyber attacks to The New York Times. Feinstein said she's still pondering the idea of a "special counsel" but finds the leaks damaging to national security. "I am deeply disturbed by the continuing leaks of classified information to the media, most recently regarding alleged cyber efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program," she said. The White House, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with an outside investigation of the leaks, as Thursday's press gaggle with Jay Carney revealed:
Q There have been calls from Congress for an independent counsel to investigate that. Is that something the President would agree to?
MR. CARNEY: No. As I said, the President takes this very seriously. I refer you to agencies that are tasked with investigating these kinds of matter. And, again, this is something that the President insists that his administration take all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk our counterterrorism operations.
It's not hard to imagine why the White House might not be thrilled about an investigation into whether it leaked classified information to the press in order to bolster President Obama's national security bona fides. As Reuters' Hosenball and Cornwell note, "Historically, some special counsels, such as the prosecutor who conducted a lengthy leak-related investigation that led to the conviction of a top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney on obstruction and perjury charges, have been accused of pursuing witch-hunts." It's hard to imagine any administration welcoming a witch hunt given the potential for embarrassment.
However, it appears the White House and Obama's re-election campaign still need to get on the same page on this issue. In an interview on CNN yesterday, Wolf Blizer asked Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod about his feelings on "this notion that John McCain wants a special counsel like Ken Starr to come in and start [an] investigation." In response, Axelrod said "We would welcome anybody to look at anything." Something tells us that was a bit of an exaggeration.
Regardless, Feinstein will have to decide in the next few days how far she's willing to go to put pressure on the White House in her campaign against the leaks. Already she's said she's looking at legislation to give inspectors general more leeway to investigate leaks. Here's Axelrod's somewhat off-message CNN interview: