Policy

Before AP Flap, Lawmakers Pushed in 2012 for Aggressive Leak Probes

Lawmakers were up in arms Tuesday over the Department of Justice's decision to subpoena Associated Press reporters' telephone records for the stated purpose of investigating leaks on a foiled terrorist attempt.

But it wasn't so long ago that politicians in both parties didn't think the administration was doing enough to investigate unauthorized disclosures of classified national security material.

In the summer of 2012, Republicans especially were calling for further scrutiny of national security leaks they believed came from the administration to prop up President Barack Obama's re-election bid.

Of course, until the size and scope of the DOJ's recent acquisition of AP reporters' records can be determined, it's difficult to tell how out-of-bounds the administration might have been in requesting them.

But for now, the Obama administration is on the defense, and members of Congress appear upset about how Justice sought to root out the leakers lawmakers were previously peeved about.  Last year, Republicans called for an independent counsel because they believed at the time the administration would not go far enough in pursuing the potential leakers.

Here's a sample of quotes from top lawmakers, from various news outlets, as previously reported by CQ Roll Call:

Most of the quotes relate to leaks related to New York Times stories on Obama's "kill list," cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear enrichment sites and the administration's drone program.

In June of 2012 House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., bemoaned the series of leaks to the New York Times: “It must be complete. It must be empowered to examine any office or department of the United States government. It must be free of influence from those who conducted or reviewed the programs at issue. It must be fair, [and] it must be nonpartisan,”  said. He noted all four leaders agreed on this: “We must put together legislation quickly that moves to give the tools to the intelligence community to prevent this from happening in the future.” Also in June, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized the administration's past efforts to go after leakers as not robust enough: “Over the past few months, there’s been a disturbing stream of articles in the media. In common among them is that they cite leaked classified or highly sensitive information in what appears to be a broader administration effort to paint a portrait of the president of the United States as a strong leader on national security issues... The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks perpetrated by a 22-year-old Army private in the WikiLeaks matter, former CIA employees in other leaks cases, but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” McCain said, referring to Bradley Manning, the now-24-year-old private facing multiple federal charges including “aiding the enemy,” which is a capital offense.

And Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in June that she would push for legislative language to address the leak issue:

“I am deeply disturbed by the continuing leaks of classified information to the media, most recently regarding alleged cyber efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program,” Feinstein said. “Today I sent a classified letter to the president outlining my deep concerns about the release of this information. I made it clear that disclosures of this type endanger American lives and undermine America’s national security.” She added that she would address the issue in this year’s intelligence authorization bill, by requiring “timely notification of authorized disclosures and the rationale for those disclosures; More forceful investigations of unauthorized disclosures; [and] Additional authorities and resources for the U.S. government to identify and prosecute those who violate various federal laws and non-disclosure agreements by revealing highly classified information.”
the House Judiciary Committee launched an inquiry that same committee could launch an inquiry into the investigation of leaks.

We asked McCain on Tuesday whether he saw lawmakers' positions then and now as in conflict with each other. Here's what he told us: "It depends. If it's a wide net and let's throw it out there and see what we catch, that's one thing. If you have specific information about an individual, then that's the Valerie Plame affair. Then you go after that individual that breached national security, so that varies."

It seems lawmakers of both parties were making a less nuanced argument last summer.