McCain calls for special counsel to probe leaks

Sen. John McCain
Sen. John McCain

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The White House has been on the defensive for nearly a week now over classified information that was reported by the press.

Republicans claim it was leaked by Democrats for political reasons, and they want an independent investigation not led by the Justice Department.

President Obama says it's offensive to suggest anyone in his White House purposely leaked classified information.

But Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.) says he thinks that's exactly what this White House did.

So McCain is introducing a Senate resolution Tuesday calling for an independent special counsel to investigate.

The leaks involve highly classified information -- one about the president's approval of drone attacks to target a secret "kill list" of terrorists. Another included details about a joint American-Israeli cyber-attack on Iran's nuclear program.

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"This is one of the most serious breaches since anyone can remember," McCain asserts.

He accuses the Obama administration of intentionally leaking the information to make the president look tough in an election year.

"Whenever there's a leak, look at who benefits, and you can usually find out who did the leaking," McCain observes.

The Justice Department quietly announced late Friday that it would appoint two U.S. attorneys, not an independent special counsel, to conduct a criminal probe.

But that's not enough for critics like McCain, who argue that those investigators still work for Attorney General Eric Holder.

Asked why, in light of Mr. Obama saying he has zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks, the White House doesn't support the naming of a special prosecutor, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney replied, "There is no need for, you know, a special counsel. These things have consistently been investigated when that's appropriate."

The last special counsel was Patrick Fitzgerald, who investigated the Bush administration for leaking the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald, as a special counsel, had all the powers of an attorney general and could subpoena whomever he wanted.

To see Norah O'Donnell's report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Norah O'Donnell is the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." She also contributes to "60 Minutes."