U.S. Attorneys Ron Machen of the District of Columbia and Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland will lead separate investigations into recent national security leaks to the news media, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday.
The appointments come as bipartisan pressure in Congress grows to crack down on leaks following recent disclosures about drone strikes, the slaying of Osama bin Laden and President Barack Obama presiding over an alleged “kill list” targeting foreign terrorists for assassination. On June 1, the New York Times published an article revealing that Stuxnet computer worm that attacked Iran’s nuclear production facilities was developed by the U.S. and Israel. The article was based on a forthcoming book by Times reporter David Sanger.
Some Republicans have accused the Obama administration of leaking the information in order to improve the president’s chances for re-election.
Obama told reporters Friday in a news conference: “The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national-security information is offensive,” adding that “if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences.”
In chosing Machen and Rosenstein to lead separate probes, Holder has picked two respected U.S. Attorneys who work in or near Washington. Machen has recently made headlines with an aggressive probe of corruption among District of Columbia elected officials. Rosenstein served as a U.S. Attorney in the George W. Bush administration and was held over by the Obama administration with support from Maryland Democrats.
“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.”
The U.S. Attorneys will report to Holder and not operate as “special counsels” with their own autonomy, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called for.
Holder said in his statement: “In carrying out their assignments, U.S. Attorneys Machen and Rosenstein are fully authorized to prosecute criminal violations discovered as a result of their investigations and matters related to those violations, consult with members of the Intelligence Community and follow all appropriate investigative leads within the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
The Justice Department has pursued six probes of leaks to the media during the Obama administration.
The New York Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet has said the paper’s journalists do “tons and tons of reporting” over months and do not rely on officials spoon feeding them information. He said the Times informed the U.S. officials of its Stuxnet findings before publication and withheld certain details at their request.