WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators on Tuesday welcomed a move by the director of national intelligence to snuff out leaks of classified information but insisted that a special counsel is needed to investigate the Obama administration and recent disclosures.
Four lawmakers, including Obama's 2008 GOP presidential rival John McCain, acknowledged that Americans were paying little attention to the issue, with immigration and health care drawing most of the focus. They held a news conference and released a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder renewing their weeks-old call for the appointment of an independent investigator. Republicans argue that the leaks were deliberate to enhance the president's record on national security as he seeks a second term.
"This administration cannot be trusted to investigate itself," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters.
Holder has appointed two U.S. attorneys to lead a Justice Department inquiry into who leaked information about U.S. involvement in cyber-attacks on Iran and an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound flight. Holder has resisted calls for a special counsel, telling lawmakers recently that the two attorneys, Ron Machen and Rod Rosenstein, are experienced, independent and thorough.
To stem the leaks, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper announced two new steps on Monday. He said a question related to unauthorized disclosure of classified information would be added to the polygraph test used by intelligence agencies. He also said the inspector general for the intelligence community would lead any independent investigations that the Justice Department declines.
"That's to some degree closing the barn door," McCain said. "I think it's laudable that he has taken that step, but the fact is we have to find out how this happened and who did it."
The Republicans suggested that a congressional investigation may be warranted. Cornyn said he spoke to Sens, Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, about a possible inquiry.
In the letter, at least 31 Republican senators say the leaks have risked national security as well as the lives of U.S. citizens and allies. They said that based on media reports, there could be many sources for the leaks within the administration.
The GOP lawmakers wrote that the inquiry by the two U.S. attorneys "does not ensure a full and thorough investigation free of influence. The U.S. attorneys are under your personal supervision. An outside special counsel, with the appropriate independence and authority, would ensure that the investigation remains untainted by even the appearance of politics or undue influence."
The investigation is just under way, but in an unusual step the lawmakers singled out by name national security adviser Thomas Donilon, citing various media reports. Asked about the mention of Donilon, McCain said, "I'm not ready to indict someone until the investigation is complete."