Attorney General Eric Holder defended his decision to appoint two U.S. Attorneys rather than outside counsel in the high-profile investigation of national security leaks to the press, remarking that both he and the FBI Director have already been interviewed by agents.
Holder also said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday that the recusal of a some lawyers in the Justice Department’s National Security Division is because they may have been exposed to parts of the investigation, not because of any wrongdoing.
“Let me be very clear: Our investigation will follow the leads wherever they take us,” Holder said. “Mr. [Ronald] Machen and Mr. [Rod] Rosenstein have the ability, the independence and the moxie.”
Holder appointed D.C. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen and Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein last week to investigate leaks of classified information, including details on drone attacks, cyber warfare and a supposed “kill list” that President Barack Obama allegedly maintains in targeting foreign terrorists.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), hammered Holder for not appointing outside counsel — something, they say, is necessary considering the political implications.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if the shoe was on other foot you would be screaming for an independent prosecutor,” Graham said to the committee. “This cries out for corrective action.”
Grassley said the department’s past issues with investigating itself is reason enough to appoint outside counsel. He pointed to the the department’s decision in 2011 to drop the prosecution of department attorney Thomas Tamm, who admitted to leaking classified information to the press.
“Given the potential conflicts of interest with the department investigating itself, the past failures of the Justice Department to prosecute their own who admitted to classified leaks, and the Attorney General’s own tepid responses to my past questions about leak prosecutions, I believe the only way to truly get to the bottom of these dangerous leaks is to appoint an independent special prosecutor,” the ranking member said.
Holder assured the senators that there is no indication of a conflict of interest at this point in the investigation. He also remarked that with the speed demanded by Congress and the public to get to the bottom of the leaks he chose not to appoint outside counsel, which typically takes a much longer time to complete an investigation. The U.S. Attorneys’ investigation team has already interviewed upwards of 100 people, he said.
Holder praised Machen and Rosenstein repeatedly, saying they have proven track records and come from both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has been a vocal critic of the leaks, said appointing outside counsel will slow the investigation down too much.
“These are two scrupulous men,” she said. “To have a fight over how we do this now will set back any leak investigation.”
Graham squarely disagreed. Because the leaks look to be coming from the highest level of President Barack Obama’s administration, he said, there has not been a more necessary time to use an outside prosecutor.
The Senator said when facing a similar situation in the Jack Abramoff case, then-Sen. Barack Obama wrote a letter to the George W. Bush administration demanding an independent investigator take over. He said the “political intrigue” is no less than in the Abramoff and Valerie Plame leak cases.
“It’s the biggest double standard in recent times,” Graham said. ”At the end of the day, I can’t believe that this is even a debate given the national security implications.