House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith on Thursday demanded President Barack Obama provide him access to senior White House officials for interviews on the allegedly politically motivated national security leaks.
“The recent disclosure of national secrets is of great concern to all Americans. When national security secrets leak and become public knowledge, our people and our national interests are jeopardized,” Smith said in his letter to Obama. “And when our enemies know our secrets, American lives are threatened.”
“The safety of Americans at home and abroad depends on the government’s ability to protect our nation’s secrets,” Smith added. “And the government’s ability to keep national security secrets depends on identifying the causes of the recent leaks and putting a stop to them.”
Smith is requesting to interview National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor to the Vice President Antony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
It’s unclear if Obama will allow these officials to be interviewed by congressional investigators. White House spokesman Eric Schultz hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
After facing immense bipartisan criticism over the leaks, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two U.S. Attorneys – Ron Machen of the District of Columbia and Rod Rosenstein of Maryland – to investigate the matter. Congressional Republicans have cast doubt on their ability to independently investigate high-level political figures in the Obama administration, especially since Machen has donated $4,350 to Obama’s campaigns over the years starting with $250 to Obama’s 2003 U.S. Senate bid.
More than 30 GOP senators have demanded Holder appoint a special independent counsel to investigate the leaks – something he has thus far refused to do.
Machen’s refusal to enforce the recent U.S. House resolution holding Holder in criminal contempt of Congress for his failure to comply with a subpoena for Operation Fast and Furious documents complicates the situation.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner shortly after Holder was voted into criminal contempt, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said Holder’s Department of Justice decided for Machen to ignore the contempt resolution.
“The Department has determined that the Attorney General’s response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime, and therefore the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General,” Cole wrote to Boehner.
That revelation – that Machen didn’t decide for himself whether he’d enforce the Holder criminal contempt resolution – prompted Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to question Machen’s ability to be independent of political interference while investigating the national security leaks.
“Your independence and integrity were cited as the reason that there was supposedly no necessity to appoint a special prosecutor,” Grassley wrote to Machen in late June. “This matter gives you an opportunity to live up to that high praise and prove your independence. However, the way this has been handled so far suggests no such independence at all.”