Did The White House commit treason & leak secrets? US attorneys to head FBI probes
WASHINGTON • Two U.S. attorneys are taking over separate FBI investigations into leaks of national security information that critics have accused the White House of orchestrating to improve President Barack Obama’s re-election chances, a claim Obama calls "offensive" and "wrong."
Recent news articles contained details of U.S. involvement in a partially successful computer virus attack on Iran’s nuclear program and on the selection of targets for counter-terrorism assassination plots. The leaked information generally painted Obama as a decisive and hands-on commander in chief.
"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong," Obama told reporters at a news conference Friday. "And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office."
Obama promised investigations into the source of leaks about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and drone strikes on suspected terrorists.
"We’re dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families or our military personnel or our allies, and so we don’t play with that," he said.
Hours later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that two U.S. attorneys will lead a pair of criminal investigations already under way into possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information within the executive and legislative branches of government.
Holder said he was confident the prosecutors would follow the facts and evidence wherever they led.
"The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated," he said.
Holder assigned Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, to direct separate probes that are already being conducted by the FBI.
Three weeks ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller said 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. Separately, 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.
Congressional intelligence committee leaders turned up the heat on the White House over alleged national security leaks on Thursday, with the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggesting she might be willing to join Republican demands for an investigation by a special counsel.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee's Democratic chairwoman, told reporters she needed more time to consider Republican demands - voiced earlier this week by Senator John McCain and committee vice chair Saxby Chambliss - for a special counsel to probe how highly sensitive secrets were disclosed to news media.
The Intelligence Committee chiefs and other legislators have called for urgent investigations into recent media disclosures on U.S. cyber warfare against Iran, procedures for targeting militants with drones, and the existence of a double agent who penetrated a militant group in Yemen.
McCain has suggested that some of the leaks may have been calculated to boost the election prospects of President Barack Obama - something White House spokesmen emphatically deny.
Feinstein cautioned that she was still pondering the "special counsel" idea for the current leak inquiries because "A special prosecutor can take years. We don't have years. We need to legislate and we need to do things quickly."
She suggested she might propose legislation to give inspectors general of government departments more investigatory authority.
Historically, some special counsels, such as the prosecutor who conducted a lengthy leak-related investigation that led to the conviction of a top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney on obstruction and perjury charges, have been accused of pursuing witch-hunts.
Feinstein and Chambliss joined the House Intelligence committee's Republican chairman Mike Rogers and ranking Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger at an unusual Capitol Hill news conference following a closed-door meeting on the leaks issue with James Clapper, Director of There were fresh indications on Thursday that even if Attorney-General Eric Holder does not formally appoint a special counsel, the Justice Department could create some kind of special chain of command to handle leak inquiries.
At the news conference, Rogers said portions of the Justice Department's National Security Division (NSD) had removed themselves from elements of at least one current leak investigation.
Rogers later issued a statement clarifying that he did not mean to suggest wrongdoing by Justice Department officials, but was merely pointing out the hazards of a Justice Department-led investigation of the leaks.