RENO, Nev. – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday called for an independent investigation into claims the White House had leaked national security information for President Barack Obama’s political gain, part of a searing speech that marked a wholesale indictment of the Democrat’s foreign policy.
In a race that has so far focused almost entirely on the sluggish economy, Romney also criticized Obama over potential cuts in the defense budget and critiqued his handling of Iran’s nuclear threat, the violence in Syria and relations with Israel during an appearance at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.
It was Romney’s first foreign policy speech since he emerged as the likely Republican presidential nominee. He accused Obama of putting politics over national security, a serious charge that went straight at a policy area where national polls show the president with the edge.
“This conduct is contemptible,” Romney said of the leaks of classified information. “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special prosecutor, with explanation and consequence.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two federal prosecutors to get to the bottom of the leaks, but Romney suggested that wasn’t good enough. The White House has rejected calls for a special prosecutor, saying there is no need for one.
Romney stopped short of accusing Obama specifically of leaking information that included details of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Obama has strongly rejected the leak accusations that, until Tuesday, had been contained to Republicans in Congress. During a news conference last month, the president called the accusations “offensive” and “wrong.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney responded Tuesday by saying Obama “feels extremely strongly about this” and noting Holder’s appointment of the two federal prosecutors to investigate.
“The president has made abundantly clear that he has no tolerance for leaks and he thinks leaks are damaging to our national security interests,” Carney said.
Romney also suggested that politics is behind Obama’s push for defense cuts and warned that the spending reductions would weaken the military.
The automatic, across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion to defense and domestic programs are slated to begin on Jan. 2 unless Congress comes up with a plan to avoid them. They were set in motion after a bipartisan congressional “supercommittee” failed to come up with an equivalent amount in cuts.
Republicans have tried to pin the looming defense cuts on Obama, but GOP members in the House and Senate voted for the reductions last August as part of a far-reaching bill that raised the nation’s borrowing authority and implemented cuts to reduce the growing federal deficit.
Obama made that point in his VFW speech on Monday. “There are a number of Republicans in Congress who don’t want you to know that most of them voted for these cuts,” he said. “Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to.”