RENO, Nev. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused President Barack Obama of trying to gain a political edge by leaking classified information about the U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Romney leveled the accusation during an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. It marked his strongest indictment yet of Obama’s foreign policy in a close race the Republican has sought to keep focused on the sluggish economy.
“This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field,” Romney told the assembly of more than 1,000 veterans and advocates. “And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence.”
In detouring from his preferred issue, the economy, Romney was venturing into a realm usually viewed as the home turf of the incumbent. Indeed, Obama gets high marks in public polling for his handling of national security issues.
But by alleging that the Obama administration divulged to reporters details of secret missions, Romney was suggesting Obama lacks the discipline the office commands.
In response, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama has zero tolerance for leaks.
“They president has made abundantly clear that he has no tolerance for leaks and he thinks leaks are damaging to our national security interests,” Carney told reporters traveling with the president at the same time Romney was speaking in Nevada.
Carney noted that two experienced federal prosecutor are investigating the matter.
Obama, himself, has rejected the notion that his White House was behind the leaks. He called such allegations “offensive” when questioned about them at a White House news conference in June.
“People, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office,” Obama said.
His campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said Romney was resorting to “cheap attacks” on the president “that lack credibility rather than answering the most basic questions about his foreign policy agenda.”
The Democratic leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, said Monday that the White House appears to be responsible for some leaks of classified information. But the California senator also said she was certain Obama, who receives a daily intelligence briefing, was not disclosing secret information.
Romney’s remarks to the veterans’ group were a stinging retort to Obama speech to the group on Monday.
He criticized Obama’s handling of the Iranian nuclear threat, accused him of backing arbitrary cuts to defense spending that were also backed by Republicans in Congress, and charged him with alienating Israel, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.
“The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world,” Romney said.
Obama sought in his address to raise the stakes for Romney’s speech, casting himself as a steady commander in chief tested by two wars and the successful raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The president was continuing a Western campaign swing with fundraising appearances Tuesday in Oregon and Washington state.
Romney raised money in California on Monday, during which he offered a preview of his latest critique of Obama. He told about 400 supporters at a hotel in Irvine that “the consequence of American weakness is seen around us in the world.”
Before the VFW, Obama touted his record as one of promises kept: End the war in Iraq, wind down the conflict in Afghanistan and go after the al-Qaida leader behind the 9/11 attacks.
Without naming Romney, Obama indirectly suggested his opponent would have kept troops in Iraq indefinitely and criticized him for opposing the president’s 2014 timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“That’s not a plan for America’s security,” Obama told veterans.
Although Obama suggested that Romney was an inexperienced critic working to polish his own credentials, Romney appeared ready to turn from his chief argument that Obama is a failed steward of the economy and criticize the president on foreign and national security policy.
“The President’s policies have made it harder to recover from the deepest recession in seventy years, exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify, compromised our national-security secrets, and in dealings with other nations, given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due,” Romney said.
Romney also suggested Monday that the Obama administration had not been aggressive enough in deterring Iran’s nuclear ambitions or in trying to quell the violence in Syria. Romney said he agreed with Obama’s call for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s departure but said Obama had not shown proper leadership to force it.
“I think from the very beginning we misread the setting in Syria,” Romney told CNBC. “America should’ve come out very aggressively from the very beginning and said Assad must go. … The world looks for American leadership and American strength.”
The Obama administration has long called for Assad to leave Syria, relying on a strategy of sanctions and international isolation to pressure Assad into handing over power.
The shift toward world affairs precedes Romney’s trip, beginning Tuesday, to Britain, Israel and Poland. It also comes as the campaigns resumed their aggressive tones after a three-day hiatus following the deadly shooting at a Colorado movie theater.
While the weekend truce was fleeting, the Colorado tragedy did not keep either candidate from chasing campaign contributions.
Romney headlined fundraisers over two days in California, netting $10 million.
Obama was expected to raise more than $6 million during two days of West Coast fundraising. He headlined three events in the San Francisco Bay area Monday and was attending four more Tuesday in Seattle and Portland, Ore.
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