The White House has already signaled it wouldn’t accept such a move lightly, and has strategic reasons not to do so. If the administration begins with its own probe, it can successfully draw out any investigation by several months — and potentially clear November — by saying it will review its own investigation, then turn over internal results to the intelligence committees for review, at which time lawmakers can decide if they feel it’s necessary to move forward with an independent investigation.
“I don’t believe that Attorney General [Eric] Holder or his deputy are going to be able to do a truly independent investigation,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I don’t think we can just let the White House investigate itself or take its word for it that it’s not the source of these leaks.”
On Thursday, Carney panned the idea of an independent counsel to probe the leaks. “Again, this is something that the president insists that his administration take all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk our counterterrorism operations,” he said.
Seemingly sensing the pressure, the Justice Department announced late Friday that U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein had been appointed by Holder to investigate “recent instances of possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
They will be directing separate investigations currently being conducted by the FBI, Holder said.
“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,” Holder said in a statement.
It remains to be seen whether this will satisfy lawmakers who want to ensure that any departments potentially tainted by the scandal steer clear of the investigation, and those who feel that a special probe could waste valuable time.
“I hope the Justice Department will bring the full force of the law against these criminals,” House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a guarded statement after Holder’s announcement. “We need to send a clear message to anyone who considers leaking sensitive information and putting Americans at risk: if you leak classified information, you will face jail time.”
Feinstein said her issue with a special investigator is that it “can take years.”
“We don’t have years. We need to legislate,” she said. “We need to get some solutions before us very quickly. …Wherever the chips fall, they fall, but we want a fair investigation.”
Ruppersberger said outright, pre-investigation, that he doesn’t believe that this was politically motivated. “The issue is about whether or not this was used politically,” he said.
“We got the information. We looked at the leaks. That’s what we’re going to look at now and investigate,” the Maryland Democrat said. “We have to make a determination. There are a lot of reasons why things occur, but you can’t make predeterminations when you’re evaluating and looking into changing the process and also how do these leaks occur.”
McCain, however, was quickly drafting a measure calling for a special council to probe the leaks.
“There are some of us who will be seeking a resolution, sense of the Senate, calling for the appointment of a special counsel,” McCain told Sean Hannity last night. “I hope maybe as early as Monday.”
“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,” the senator said after Obama’s press conference today.
Rogers said the fact that the CIA won’t provide details of the leaks to Congress, citing the ongoing investigation by the FBI, is proof alone that an independent probe is needed.
“What we are doing in a bipartisan way is we need to follow the leads of the investigation to the leaker and make sure that leaker goes to jail. Much like what happened with the Valerie Plame case,” Rogers said this morning on CNN. “Someone went to jail over that. This is 100 times the magnitude of that.”
UPDATE: “The investigation must be complete, fair and balanced,” Rogers said in response to Holder’s move. “These US 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.”