White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is demanding an apology from Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) over Bond's claim that a recent White House briefing on the Christmas bomb plot was "helpful" to terrorists.
"I think he owes an apology to the professionals in the law enforcement community and those that work in this building, not for Democrats and Republicans, but who work each and every day to keep the American people safe and would never ever, ever knowingly release or unknowingly release classified information that could endanger an operation or an interrogation," Gibbs said, as quoted at The Hill.
In a letter to the president Thursday, Bond, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that he was "deeply disturbed" by revelations in a Tuesday briefing that announced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the flight 253 suspect, was co-operating with investigators and offering useful information.
"This information immediately hit the air waves globally and, no doubt, reached the ears of our enemies abroad," Bond said, warning that the disclosure "has no doubt been helpful to his terrorist cohorts around the world."
Gibbs strongly disputed that the information from the briefing was in any way privileged, or could help terrorists planning attacks on the US.
"No briefing is done here or anywhere in this administration where classified information is used in a place where it shouldn't be," Gibbs said, as quoted at ABC News.
But Bond said FBI Director Robert Mueller had informed key lawmakers Monday that Abdulmutallab was providing "critical information" and emphasized that "keeping the fact of his cooperation quiet was vital to preventing future attacks against the United States.
"Twenty-four hours later, however, White House staff assembled members of the media to announce Abdulmutallab's cooperation and to laud the events that led to his decision to cooperate with law enforcement personnel," said Bond.
"Consider the consequences of publicly disseminating sensitive information vital to the defense of the American people. I do not believe the American people want this information jeopardized to further political arguments."
Gibbs denied that the briefing was politically motivated, and said the briefing was to "clarify findings from this week's much-reported Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, not to score political points," as The Hill reported. He accused Bond of "playing politics" himself.
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Bond's press liaison, Shana Marchio, insisted that Mueller had told Gibbs the information about Abdulmutallab was classified.
"Clearly - bottom line, Gibbs wasn't on phone w/Bond and Mueller," Marchio tweeted, referring to a conversation between the FBI director and the senator earlier this week.
US officials accuse Abdulmutallab, allegedly trained in Yemen by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, of trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines plane approaching Detroit on December 25.
-- With Agence France-Presse