Democrats are trying to portray ex-intelligence officials who are publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s leaking of sensitive material in order to boost the president’s political standing as partisans. They think by merely saying the words “Swift Boat,” the group, which calls itself Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, will be ignored or reviled. But the comparison to those Navy veterans who blasted John Kerry’s record during the 2004 campaign is not apt. Whatever the motivation of the original Swift Boat veterans, their beef was a personal grudge against Kerry. The issue the Opsec group is highlighting is a serious problem that has already resulted in federal investigations of the White House’s behavior.
Topic: White House leaks investigation
Though the press largely dropped the story weeks ago, no controversy has the potential to do as much long-term damage to the Obama presidency as the White House leaks investigation. That’s why Mitt Romney’s ringing denunciation of the administration’s fast and loose approach to classified information in his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday had to scare the administration silly. In response, they not only prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to try to walk back her accusation that the White House was the source of the leaks about cyber warfare, targeted assassinations of terrorists, Iran and other national security topics that Romney cited in his speech. They also sent out campaign honcho David Axelrod to make the rounds of the morning news shows today to reassure the American people that President Obama played no role in the flow of secrets to the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets friendly to the president.
But Axelrod’s assurances ring false. Obama’s problem here is that the White House’s fingerprints were all over these stories. It’s not just that secrets were spilled, but that they were leaked in a manner intended to make the president look like he was actively involved in the details of national security matters. The Times stories in particular — served up as they were to fill the front page of a number of Sunday editions of the paper — were more than background material about the nuts and bolts of how the nation is pursuing terrorists and attempting to stop Iran’s nuclear program but crafted so as to make the president look good. Moreover, they were sourced in such a way as to make it obvious it came from the White House. That is why Romney’s call for a special prosecutor had to make the president and his senior advisers squirm.
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the VFW today hit the right marks, but was unfortunately sparse on details and lacked an overarching vision. It was definitely more of a political speech than an ideological one; he mentioned President Obama by name 14 times, and many of his positions were framed in terms of his opposition to Obama.
But Romney’s speech did get an assist from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He quoted her while criticizing the administration’s intelligence leak investigation:
Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence. Obama appointees, who are accountable to President Obama’s attorney general, should not be responsible for investigating the leaks coming from the Obama White House.
Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished. The time for stonewalling is over.
Anyone with eyes and ears can figure out that some of the recent national security leaks most likely came from the White House, and yesterday Sen. Dianne Feinstein finally acknowledged the obvious:
“I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from its ranks. I don’t know specifically where, but they have to understand that and do something about it…
“To know what the president actually knows about this is difficult, because with respect to intelligence he is in a bubble. He has his [president’s daily brief] early every morning. And so he gets a briefing of intelligence. I don’t believe for a moment he goes out and talks about it. I don’t believe the briefers go out and talk about it. But who knows who else?”
Hmm. Was Feinstein suggesting in the second paragraph that the president might know the source of the leaks? That seems like a serious possibility. If the leaks came from the daily national security briefing as she indicates, clearly there is a finite number of people who could be the culprits. Feinstein rules out the briefers (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper), but suggests it could have been anybody else in the meeting.
Earlier this year, a hot mic caught an unfortunate bit of candor when President Obama told former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that once safely re-elected he would have the “flexibility” to please the Kremlin better than he could before November. That confession alerted wavering independents that what they hear on the campaign trail from the president might bear very little resemblance to the policies that a second Obama administration would implement. That is especially true when it comes to foreign policy where the election year Jewish charm policy vis-à-vis Israel has been such a departure from the first three years of his administration.
But however great the contrast may be between what the president is promising and what he plans on delivering, that might be nothing when compared to the difference between what he thinks a second term will be like and the actual experience. Right now, with Mitt Romney continuing to rise in the polls and the Democrats showing weakness around the country, the only thing the president seems to be thinking of is the necessity to do or say anything he needs to in order to beat the Republicans. Setbacks, such as the jobs numbers, and scandals, such as the fallout from the Fast and Furious investigation and the probe into the administration’s press leaks about cyber warfare and other secret matters seem to be merely obstacles to the all-consuming task of securing 270 Electoral College votes. To the extent that they rivet his attention, it is only to the extent of figuring out how to damp down the controversy until after the election.
But these scandals should serve as a reminder to the president that even if he is able to win this year, the following four years may turn out to be an unremitting hell.
In an interview today, Representative Peter King said that the growing scandal about the recent spate of national security leaks is not only worse than Watergate; it dwarfs it. There’s “no comparison” between the two. Watergate, according to King, “meant nothing.” Now I believe, with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, that the leaks to the New York Times about the Osama bin Laden raid, the president directing drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen based on a classified “kill list” of terror suspects, and especially the cyber campaign to disrupt and spy on Iran’s nuclear weapons program are quite serious. I wouldn’t downplay their significance for a moment. But neither should Watergate be understated.
As Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote in an article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, “at its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by [Richard] Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.” It involved a “massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against [Nixon’s] real or perceived opponents.”
The Woodward and Bernstein article is most useful in quoting from the Watergate tapes, where the things discussed included blackmail, hush money, illegal wiretapping, political sabotage, abuse of power, and obstruction of justice. When the president of the United States approves a plan directing the CIA to impede a criminal investigation by the FBI in order to cover up his administration’s illegal acts, it means something. There is a reason that Nixon’s party abandoned him. His impending impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate convinced Nixon to resign. “Too many lies, too many crimes,” in the words of Barry Goldwater.
Sen. John McCain, who has been out in front on the White House leaking scandal, introduced a resolution earlier today calling for a special counsel to investigate. The Hill reports it was immediately blocked by Senate Democrats:
McCain introduced a resolution Tuesday expressing the Senate’s support for [Attorney General Eric] Holder to appoint a special prosecutor. But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) objected after McCain asked for unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to consideration of his resolution.
“What is at issue here is whether or not we are going to give an opportunity for U.S. attorneys, professionals in their fields, to handle this particular inquiry,” Wyden said. “And I see no evidence, Mr. President, that the way U.S. attorneys are handling this investigation at this time is not with the highest standards of professionalism.”
Democrats are (to their credit) willing to criticize the White House for the leaks, but so far they’ve lacked the political courage to call for a special prosecutor to lead the investigation. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the most vocal of these Democratic critics, announced her opposition to a special counsel appointment today. Feinstein said that the two attorneys appointed by the Department of Justice can handle the investigation — despite concerns over conflict of interest — and insisted that appointing a special prosecutor would needlessly prolong the investigation.