Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has appointed the two U.S. attorneys from the District and Maryland to lead investigations into the possible leak of classified information by the White House to reporters, even as President Obama defended his administration against claims that it was complicit.
In a statement issued late Friday, Holder said that he has notified members of Congress that he has assigned the U.S. attorney for the District, Ronald C. Machen Jr., and his counterpart for Maryland, Rod J. Rosenstein, to lead criminal investigations into “possible unauthorized” leaks to reporters for several recent news articles and books.
Holder said the investigations will be conducted separately from the probes launched in recent days by the FBI into the possible disclosure of classified information to reporters. Prosecutors from the Justice Department’s National Security Division will be involved in both inquiries, a law enforcement source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.
Machen has led the investigations into former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who pleaded guilty in January to stealing funds meant for city children, and former D.C. Council chairman Kwame R. Brown, who pleaded guilty Friday to bank fraud.
At the White House on Friday, Obama forcefully disputed charges from some Republican lawmakers that his administration had been complicit in the sensitive information being made public.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong,” Obama said at a morning news conference.
The president added that there were “mechanisms in place” to “root out folks who have leaked.”
“They will suffer consequences,” he said. “When this information, or reports, whether true or false, surface on the front page of newspapers, that makes the job of folks on the front lines tougher and it makes my job tougher, which is why since I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation.”
Prominent members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have pressured the White House to appoint a special counsel to investigate the matter. Late Friday, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement that Holder’s move didn’t go far enough.
“This investigation involves some of the most serious breaches of national security in recent memory and any investigation must be done in a manner free and clear of political considerations,” they said. “The recent decision of the Attorney General falls far short of what is needed and is not an adequate substitute for an outside special counsel.”
Several lawmakers said this week that they plan to introduce legislation to restrict the leaking of sensitive national security information to news outlets.
McCain and others have cited recent accounts that provide details on key national security decisions, including a New York Times article chronicling Obama’s approval of a “kill list” of suspected terrorists targeted with drone attacks; reports in the Times and The Washington Post regarding U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program; and a book by Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman that includes details on the administration’s deliberations on the detention of suspected terrorists.
“The investigation must be complete, fair and balanced,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said. “These U.S. attorneys will need to have the ability to follow the investigation wherever it may lead. I look forward to hearing how they will be independent from the chain of command.”
Obama said that “the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that [the leaks] didn’t come from this White House.”
Holder said Machen and Rosenstein “are fully authorized to prosecute criminal violations,” consult with the intelligence community and follow all leads within the government.
“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated,” Holder said.