WASHINGTON — The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that she shouldn't have speculated about the White House's responsibility for national security leaks because she didn't know the source of the unauthorized disclosures.
Just hours after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seized on her comments to criticize President Barack Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued a statement offering her regrets about her observation while insisting that she was confident the president did not disclose classified information.
"I am disappointed by the statements made by Mr. Romney today regarding a question I was asked yesterday at the World Affairs Council," Feinstein said. "I was asked whether the White House might be responsible for recent national security leaks. I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information. I shouldn't have speculated beyond that because the fact of the matter is I don't know the source of the leaks."
At a forum on Monday, Feinstein had said that the White House has to understand that the disclosure of classified information is coming from its ranks. She said she didn't believe the president had leaked information.
Romney mentioned Feinstein by name in his speech Tuesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev., and accused the White House of leaking the information to burnish Obama's reputation in an election year. He echoed other congressional Republicans in dismissing the current Justice Department investigation and pressed for a special counsel to lead the probe.
"This isn't a partisan issue; it's a national security crisis," Romney said. He later added: "Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed and punished. The time for stonewalling is over."
Obama and the administration have strongly rejected the leak accusations. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two attorneys to lead the investigation into who leaked information about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and about an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound airliner.
Feinstein said she regretted that her remarks "are being used to impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets. I know for a fact the president is extremely troubled by these leaks. His administration has moved aggressively to appoint two independent U.S. attorneys. There is an investigation under way, and it is moving forward quickly."
She added her hope that although it is an election year, the investigation can proceed "without political accusation or interference from anyone."