By Luke Vargas
UPDATE (3:45 PM): Feinstein told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon that she was wrong to accuse the White House of being behind the leaks. The California lawmaker said she ”should not have speculated…because the fact of the matter is I don’t know the source of the leaks.”
Critics immediately speculated that the White House had privately pressured Feinstein to walk back her initial remarks.
– End Update –
President Obama used the podium at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno on Monday to extol his own foreign policy successes, but his Republican opponent charted a decidedly different course today in a speech that sought to seize on the buzz worthy issues of the day.
Condemning Obama for the ongoing scandal over national intelligence leaks and the upcoming defense sequestration cuts ordered by Congress, Romney told the audience that he would not allow the U.S. to be weakened from a national security standpoint.
The chief tool of Romney’s attack over intelligence leaks was California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D), who said in an appearance Monday at the World Affairs Council that, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
Feinstein’s charge is the most high profile implication of the White House over involvement in the leaks to be levied by a member of the President’s own party, and Romney pulled no punches in stressing that Feinstein’s remarks signal a lack of confidence in Obama’s leadership.
“What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain?” Romney asked. “This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field.”
The GOP candidate later called for an independent probe into the leaks, and said that the culprit should be ”exposed, dismissed, and punished.”
Refuting a reporter’s assertion that Romney has been light on providing policy specifics, former Senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.) acknowledged that while Romney frequently seeks to draw contrasts with Obama’s leadership, he also provides ample indication of his own policy leanings while on the campaign trail.
“Governor Romney has spoken out on every major policy decision,” Talent said during a conference call. “And every time he’s criticized the President he’s said what he would do.”
Romney’s speech comes on the eve of a six-day trip of Europe and Israel in the mold of Obama’s foreign excursion during the 2008 campaign. While Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said last week that the trip will primarily be an opportunity for the candidate to “”learn and listen,” the campaign stressed this morning on a conference call with reporters that the trip will have a strong policy focus.
“If you look at the range of officials [Romney] is meeting with, you can’t help but understand how deeply substantive these meetings and briefings will be,” said Dan Senor, a Romney campaign policy advisor. Senor went on to note that while Obama was visiting many countries for the first time during his 2008 trip. By contrast, Senor pointed out, “Governor Romney has been traveling to all these regions for years.”