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Story highlights

Spicer pushed back on comparisons to Trump's praise of WikiLeaks during the campaign

Spicer's comments came as federal officials launched a criminal investigation

(CNN) —  

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday cast aside the playbook of cut-and-dry condemnations of national security leaks and instead framed his response along political lines.

After expressing concern about Wikileaks’ release of documents allegedly revealing CIA surveillance techniques, Spicer quickly muddled his message.

He connected the latest WikiLeaks document dump to surveillance efforts under the Obama administration, days after President Donald Trump’s leveled his unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama tapped the GOP candidate’s phones during the 2016 campaign.

And then he took to arguing forcefully that there was a “double standard” when it comes to the level of outrage elicited by different leaks.

The White House has repeatedly argued that too much public and political attention has been devoted to the investigation into contacts between Trump campaign officials and suspected Russian operatives and not enough to the leaks of that confidential information.

’I love Wikileaks’

“It’s interesting how there’s sort of a double standard with when the leaks occur, how much outrage there is,” he said.

Spicer’s comments came as he relayed Trump’s “concern” about the leaks and said Americans should be “outraged” by the release of classified information.

“This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our country, our security and our well-being,”Spicer said.

Spicer’s claims Wednesday came as he faced questions about a double standard on the President’s part in condemning this leak while he praised WikiLeaks’ publication of emails related to his rival Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

“I love WikiLeaks!” Trump proclaimed on the stump last year as he took to reading before crowds of cheering supporters hacked emails that the site released.

Spicer said Wednesday that there is a “massive, massive difference” between the two disclosures.

“There is a big difference between disclosing Podesta – John Podesta’s Gmail accounts about a back-and-forth and his undermining of Hillary Clinton and his thoughts on her on a personal nature, and the leaking of classified information,” Spicer said.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly lauded WikiLeaks for releasing emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, several of which portrayed Clinton in an unfavorable light. The US intelligence community concluded those emails were hacked and released to WikiLeaks by Russian sources as part of a campaign to hurt Clinton.

But Trump’s comments about hacking when he was on the campaign trail weren’t limited to praising of WikiLeaks, which has engaged in publishing classified national security information since 2006, and its dump of Clinton emails.

Trump also applauded the hack of the Democratic National Committee and downplayed the seriousness of the various election-related hacks, at one point urging Russia to find and release the 33,000 emails allegedly deleted from the private email server Clinton used while secretary of state.’

Leaks

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, slammed Spicer’s claim that there was no comparison between Trump’s praise of WikiLeaks’ campaign-related document dumps and the latest leak of CIA documents.

“The reality is, yes, there’s a difference between the hacking and the leaking through WikiLeaks during the campaign – but both were wrong, both were serious injuries to our national security,” Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, arguing that the Democratic document release was part of the Russian campaign to undermine US democracy. “Both should be condemned.”

Spicer’s decision to mix politics with his condemnation of WikiLeaks’ latest dump broke with a simpler approach followed by his predecessors – who stuck to their role of voicing the government’s concerns about leaks, without drawing in tangential issues.

It’s the approach White House press secretary Robert Gibbs took in 2010 when WikiLeaks published classified diplomatic cables.

“By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,”Gibbs said, without delving into any broader political discussion. “We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”

CNN’s Allie Malloy contributed to this report.