U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder named two federal prosecutors to investigate possible leaks of classified information by the Obama administration.
Holder appointed Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland, to head the probe, according to a statement yesterday from the Justice Department.
“I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice wherever it leads,” Holder said in the statement.
President Barack Obama’s administration has been accused of leaking information about a U.S. cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear program and Obama’s personal role in directing drone attacks against terrorists to boost his election-year national security bona fides. The disclosures have spurred calls from U.S. lawmakers for an investigation and possible prosecutions.
Obama said yesterday before the announcement that White House officials didn’t leak classified intelligence to journalists. In response to a question, he said anyone who leaked “will suffer consequences” and, in some instances, the disclosures could lead to criminal charges.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong.”
The White House press office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the appointment of the prosecutors.
In a June 6 statement, John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the disclosures were “grossly irresponsible” and said there is a “deeper political motivation” for leaks.
Holder stopped short of appointing a special independent prosecutor to conduct the investigation, which Republican lawmakers including McCain have said he should do.
“We strongly believe a special counsel should be appointed outside Justice Department control and influence,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and McCain said in a joint statement yesterday. They said Holder’s decision “falls far short of what is needed” and called for someone who “enjoys bipartisan respect.”
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said appointing a special prosecutor isn’t necessary at a June 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Previous leak investigations have also been led by a U.S. attorney rather than top officials at the Justice Department’s National Security Division, in order to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest, according to a department official, who wasn’t authorized to be identified publicly.
“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated,” Holder said in his statement.
The Justice Department statement didn’t specify which disclosures of classified information would be the focus of the prosecutors’ review.
Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has called for a probe of the leaks, said last night that the department’s investigation “must be complete, fair and balanced.”
“These U.S. attorneys will need to have the ability to follow the investigation wherever it may lead,” Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said in a statement distributed by his office. “I look forward to hearing how they will be independent from the chain of command.”
Rogers said on June 7 that the Central Intelligence Agency won’t respond to the intelligence committee’s request for information about leaks of classified data.
The panel had asked about last month’s disclosure of information on an intelligence operation that thwarted plans by al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to smuggle a potentially undetectable bomb onto a U.S.-bound airliner, according to a congressional aide who isn’t authorized to speak to the media.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing last month that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an arm of the Justice Department, is investigating the disclosures related to the Yemen bomb plot.
Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman, said there was no intent by the agency to withhold information on the leaks issue.
“We all have to be careful not to jeopardize the DOJ criminal investigation that is running concurrently with the congressional inquiry,” Golson said in a June 7 e-mail.
The Justice Department should “bring the full force of the law against these criminals” who leaked classified information, said Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement yesterday after Holder’s announcement.
“We need to send a clear message to anyone who considers leaking sensitive information and putting Americans at risk: if you leak classified information, you will face jail time,” Smith said.