As U.S. Justice Department attorneys probe recent high-level national security leaks from the White House, a top adviser to President Obama on Sunday refused to say whether the commander in chief will answer investigators’ questions.
“An investigation has been announced. Let’s let that proceed,” said White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that he would not comment specifically on the president’s involvement.
Mr. Plouffe did say that “everyone in the administration” will cooperate with the investigative team, comprised of two career attorneys at the Justice Department. It’s their job to find out who leaked a variety of national security secrets to a New York Times reporter, disclosures which led to a series of recent stories.
The leaks included highly classified information on a top-secret “kill list,” assembled by the president’s national security team, of targets for drone strikes.
The material also described in detail a U.S. cyberattack on Iranian infrastructure, as well as confirmation that American intelligence agencies had a mole inside al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Some congressional Republicans, along with political pundits, have theorized that the White House authorized the leaks to aid Mr. Obama’s re-election effort by getting his national security record back in the news.
Whether that’s true remains unclear, but either way, the leaks could carry significant risk.
“In my opinion, an enormous amount of damage has been done to our national security,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, also speaking on Fox News.
The disclosure of cyberwarfare against Iran, Mr. Lieberman said, is especially troubling and could directly lead to a retaliatory strike.
“There’s a danger that it may legitimize an Iranian or terrorist counter cyberattack on us because we did it,” he said.
Many on Capitol Hill, including Mr. Lieberman, believe the administration should appoint independent prosecutors to look into the matter, rather than rely on investigators who report directly to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
The White House has thus far flatly rejected those calls.
“The attorney general appointed two U.S. attorneys, and we think that’s a smart move,” said Mr. Plouffe on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He also made the talk show rounds Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Despite being pressed on the question, Mr. Plouffe wouldn’t say whether the president would agree to one-on-one interviews with the two investigators, as former President George W. Bush did during the probe into the public disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
During that scandal almost decade ago, Mr. Bush also instructed his entire staff to come forward with any information they had about the source of the leak, which turned out to be State Department official Richard Armitage.
Mr. Lieberman and others are now urging the administration to follow the Bush administration’s playbook.
“I think the administration ought to do everything it can to eliminate any appearance that people in the administration leaked this highly classified information for political or other personal purposes,” Mr. Lieberman said. “If I were advising [the president], I’d say he should sit down and talk to the investigators.”