WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of congressional members called for an investigation into the source of security leaks that led to stories published by the New York Times, but stopped short of claiming the leaks were made for political purposes by the Obama administration.
The four lawmakers, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), along with Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), held a news conference Thursday following a closed-door meeting with National Security Director James Clapper. The group called for swift legislative action, to be included in a pending intelligence authorization bill in the Senate, aimed at preventing future leaks.
The two newspaper articles at the center of the controversy, which exposed the extent of U.S. involvement in cyberattacks made against Iran and the White House’s secret ‘Kill List,’ were published by the New York Times, and quickly drew congressional attention.
“There is no more important issue that we have to work on than this issue,” said Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Select Committee on Intelligence, who added the leaked information “infringes on the ability of the intelligence community to do their job.”
Rogers, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, warned the recent spate of leaks is “not an isolated incident … it’s a pattern that’s getting worse,” and divulged several pieces of information the lawmakers have uncovered during their initial inquiry.
Rogers said intelligence agencies had been told to expand media access, that a member of the media had been included in a classified meeting and that the individual responsible for the leaks could be in a position to influence future investigations into the origin of the leaks. The congressman also divulged the CIA would withhold information pertaining to the investigation, and the Department of Justice would recuse itself from elements of the probe.
The four lawmakers said they have yet to finalize what would be proposed legislatively, but were clear they would seek to change the culture of U.S. intelligence agencies, ensure accountability if leaks occur in the future and broaden awareness of the issue.
The framework of a formal investigation remains unsettled, in part because of concerns the leaker could be involved in the proceedings, the lawmakers said. But Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, was skeptical about the possibility of having a special prosecutor look into the matter, saying such a solution “can take years. We don’t have years.” She did suggest that some members of the intelligence community could be given more leeway to investigate the leaks. The group also confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation, but declined to comment on the specifics.
The group did not agree with speculation the leaks were “made by senior administration officials for political purposes,” an assertion made by Sen. John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday. Feinstein said there would be “no finger pointing,” while Ruppersberger, the ranking member of the House Committee on Intelligence, added, “I do not believe it was politically motivated.”
Chambliss, who on Tuesday that “some in the administration have decided that scoring political points in an election year outweighs intelligence operations,” was silent on that point.
The White House has been firm in refusing any such allegations.
"I know there was a press conference today and I just don't have enough information about it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. "But this President is fully committed to preventing leaks of classified information, as well as sensitive information that could jeopardize our counterterrorism efforts. And that policy and that approach is communicated widely through the White House and the administration."
Carney said the White House would reject an investigation into the leaks conducted by an independent counsel.
[For the Record, 1:50 p.m. PST June 7: This post has been updated to reflect comments made by Carney after its publication.]