When the original leak story first appeared the Obama administration probably expected it to be a three-day wonder, gradually sinking into a sea of other issues. But since then, it’s taken on a life of its own and has become an increasing problem for the President. Leaking for political gain is not unusual and most previous administrations have done it.
However, the leaking of national security secrets that have the highest classification has ignited a firestorm of criticism. A number of Senators, including Carl Levin (D-MI) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have pointed fingers at the White House as the source of the leaks.
Despite the Obama Administration’s attempts to make them walk back statements and postpone hearings, the American public is now aware of the situation. Team Obama has finally realized that the leak stories, coupled with the continuing bad economic numbers and the President’s statement on “you didn’t build that” has had a debilitating effect on Obama’s favorability rating. According to the recent NY Times/CBS News poll, Obama’s favorability has dropped to 36%, 10% less than April and light years away from his ratings at the beginning of the year.
Team Obama realizes that they can’t prop up his reelection with “registered voter” polls that overestimate the President’s strength. Likely voter polls are generally showing a consistent lead for Governor Romney. Remember “registered voters” only vote 60-65% of the time while likely voters are, well, likely to vote all of the time.
On Monday, Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to the White House as the source of the national security leaks. “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from it’s ranks” said in an address to the World Affairs Council. “I don’t know specifically where, but there — I think they have to begin to understand that and do something about it.”
The White House apparently took her to the woodshed after Mitt Romney latched on to her statement and used it in a speech at the VFW Convention. Feinstein released a statement that criticized Romney and attempted to walk back her criticism of the White House.
“I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information. I shouldn’t have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is I don’t know the source of the leaks,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. ”I regret my remarks are being used to impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets.”
In her original speech, Feinstein simply stated what everyone who has read the various articles in the NY Times already knows, that some person or persons with top clearance leaked the critical information. It is so detailed and identifiable that the surprising thing is that speculation has not attached names to the leaks.
Let’s look at the state secrets that have been released to the public via these leaks. Operational details on the Osama Bin Laden killing were leaked almost immediately after the event. Then, we had detailed leaks on the various cyber attacks against the Iranian nuclear program.
This was followed by leaks about the President’s secret kill list of terrorists that are being targeted. Finally,the would-be bomber in the recently-uncovered plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner leaving Yemen was revealed as an undercover intelligence agent. All in an attempt to make Obama look like a strong leader in the area of national defense.
“It’s obvious on its face that this information came from individuals who are in the administration.” said Sen. John McCain. “The president may not have done it himself, but the president certainly is responsible as commander in chief.”
The administration’s response to all of this up to now has been to deny culpability and appoint two area U.S. attorneys to investigate the leaks. No one expects these two attorneys to complete their investigations anytime before the election. This met with immediate criticism from Republican leaders.
“Can you have the U.S. attorney assigned through the Attorney General to investigate something that is clearly going to be at the most senior levels of all of the executive branch – DOD (Department of Defense) and FBI, the attorney general’s office and even the president. I mean, some of the leaks – and the public leaks– are self-described aides or people who were in the Situation Room. That’s a pretty small but pretty important group of people,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Yesterday, the head of the Special Operations Command Admiral William McRaven said Wednesday night at the Aspen Security Forum, “The President and Capitol Hill are taking these leaks very very seriously. We need to do the best we can to clamp down because sooner or later it is going to cost people their lives or it is going to cost us our national security.”
The cost to Obama’s reelection campaign must be serious. David Axelrod did not explicitly deny that the leaks came from the White House. He did expressly point out that the President did not leak classified information to the media. Team Obama is trying valiantly to put this controversy behind them but like a bad penny, it just won’t go away.