Mitt Romney blasts President Obama for intelligence leaks, defense cuts in speech to VFW

Mitt Romney today accused President Obama’s White House of leaking classified national security secrets, a charge now also levied by the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nev., Romney stopped short of saying the president, himself, had leaked classified information used in recent news reports. But he alleged that someone in the White House was responsible and that the security breaches were political—meant to make Obama appear tough on terrorism in an election year.

“Exactly who in the White House betrayed these secrets? Did a superior authorize it?” Romney said. “These are things that Americans are entitled to know—and they are entitled to know it now. If the president believes, as he said last week, that the buck stops with him, then he owes all Americans a full and prompt accounting of the facts.”

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The remarks by Romney, scheduled to fly to London later in the day for a week of meetings with European leaders, followed California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s statement Monday that “the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”

Feinstein, the intelligence committee chairwoman, said she doesn’t “believe for a moment” that Obama is the source.

But her accusation marked the first time a high-profile Democrat has challenged Obama’s assertion that his White House is not behind the leaks.

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said during a White House news conference last month. “It’s wrong.”

The uproar over intelligence leaks began last month, after a series of news reports revealed classified details of national security operations.

In one story, the New York Times uncovered a sophisticated system of cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities using a computer worm called Stuxnet. That report, the paper said, was based on 18 months of interviews with officials who would not allow their names to be used “because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.”

In another article, the Times revealed the existence of Obama’s secret “kill list,” relying in part on interviews with unnamed current and former national security advisers to the president. The story painted Obama as highly aggressive on, and personally involved in, counterterrorism decisions—a depiction that has fueled Republican speculation that the leaks are designed to bolster the president’s image as he seeks reelection against Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee.

“A really disturbing aspect of this is that one could draw the conclusion from reading these articles that it is an attempt to further the president’s political ambitions for the sake of his reelection at the expense of our national security,” Arizona Senator John McCain said on the Senate floor June 5.

Romney called the leaks “a national security crisis.”

“And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence,” he added, criticizing the ongoing criminal investigation into the leaks, which is being conducted by two US attorneys appointed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

“It’s not enough to say the matter is being looked into, and just leave it at that,” Romney said. “When the issue is the political use of highly sensitive national security information, it’s unacceptable to say, ‘We’ll report our findings after the election.’ ”

“What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain?” Romney continued. “I’ll tell you right now: Mine will not.

Romney also knocked Obama for looming cuts to defense spending, which could total $1 trillion over the next decade. The defense budget will shrink by at least $487 billion under the Budget Control Act, the debt ceiling compromise reached last summer.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said his department can safely sustain that reduction. But Panetta has expressed concern about deeper cuts—a fact Romney emphasized before the VFW.

A set of default cuts, known as sequesters, will take effect next year if Congress cannot agree on other ways to save $1.2 trillion in the next 10 years. The sequesters include an additional $500 billion in defense cuts.

Obama in an address to the VFW convention on Monday stressed that veterans’ benefits are exempt from sequestration and cannot be reduced by those budget cuts. He also pinned the sequestration stalemate on congressional Republicans, telling them to “stop playing politics with our military.”

But Romney placed the blame on Obama, labeling the potential cuts “President Obama’s massive defense cuts.”