McCain blasts White House over leaks

Updated 8:20 p.m. ET

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took to the Senate floor Tuesday to criticize the Obama administration's leaks of information on secret national security programs, blasting the White House for purposely leaking the info for political purposes.

"What price was paid by the administration to proliferate such a presidential persona highly valued in an election year?" McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, asked. "The only conceivable motive for such damaging and compromising leaks of classified information is that it makes the president look good."

What drew McCain's ire was a New York Times story that suggested President Obama had secretly ordered sophisticated cyberattacks on the computers that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities.

"The author of the article, Mr. David Sanger, clearly states that former and current American officials spoke to him but refused to do so on the record because the program is both highly classified and parts of it are ongoing," McCain said. "I repeat, administration officials discussed a most highly classified operation that is both highly classified and ongoing. An operation that was clearly one of the most tightly held national security secrets in our country until now."

Sanger addressed his interaction with the administration in an interview on Sunday's "Face the Nation."

"I spent a year working the story from the bottom up, and then went to the administration and told them what I had," he told Bob Schieffer. "Then they had to make some decisions about how much they wanted to talk about it. All that you read about this being deliberate leaks out of the White House wasn't my experience."

McCain also cited another New York Times article about the "kill list," a classified list of terrorists the president has authorized to use lethal force against, and criticized Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod, who is reported in the article to have to have attended meetings in which this list was discussed.

Axelrod told Schieffer on Sunday's "Face the Nation" that he adamantly denies being present in any meeting where the "kill list" was discussed.

"I'm flat out asserting that that is not true," he said. "There were meetings, I know there were weekly meetings dealing with terrorist threats and planning around it, but I did not attend those meetings."

McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also announced during his floor speech that he and the committee's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., agreed to hold hearings to investigate the leaks and also called on the president to appoint a special counsel to investigate the leaks.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.