Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that he had ordered two federal prosecutors tonight to open criminal investigations into a series of national security leaks to the news media, as reported by Yahoo.
Holder assigned U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr., a Democratic appointee, and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, a holdover GOP appointee, to lead the investigations.
“These two highly-respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations currently being conducted by the FBI,” Holder said in a statement.
“I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice, wherever it leads,” he said.
The assignments come after President Barack Obama strongly rejected claims that his White House has deliberately leaked secrets to the media, saying the idea was “offensive” and would put Americans at risk, according to CNN.
FBI Director Robert Mueller earlier announced that the bureau had launched an investigation into who leaked information about an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound airline flight, writes The Huff Post.
“Leaks such as this threaten ongoing operations, puts at risk the lives of sources, makes it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damages our relationships with our foreign partners.” Mueller said on May 16 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Leaks such as this have … a huge impact on our ability to do our business, not just on a particular source and the threat to the particular source, but your ability to recruit sources is severely hampered,” Mueller said.
The leaked information generally presented President Obama as a decisive and hands-on commander in chief, that made Republican critics suggest the leaks were orchestrated to boost Obama’s re-election bid.
At the same time, calls from Capitol Hill have mounted urging a leak probe into a New York Times story a week ago about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran.
Lawmakers have mentioned recent stories by The New York Times, The Associated Press and other news organizations that contain previously secret information and cite anonymous U.S. officials.
President Obama was questioned on the issue at a news conference and pushed back angrily, noting that he had “zero tolerance” for such leaks and that those responsible would “suffer consequences.”
“The notion that the White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive, it’s wrong, and people, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me approach this office,” the president said.
“We are dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people — our families or our military or our allies — and so we don’t play with that.”
meanwhile the strongest claim about the White House involvement in the leaks came from Barack Obama’s 2008 election opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“They’re intentionally leaking information to enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy for the elections,” McCain said. “That is unconscionable.”
McCain added that Obama was distancing himself from the controversy.
“What the president did not unequivocally say today is that none of the classified or highly sensitive information recently leaked to the media came from the White House,” McCain said.
“I continue to call on the president to immediately appoint a special counsel to fully investigate and, where necessary, prosecute these gravely serious breaches of our national security.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney bristled on Wednesday that McCain had alleged the leaks were coming from the White House.
“Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible,” Carney said.
Carney said that “this administration takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations.”