WASHINGTON (AP) - Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday appointed two U.S. attorneys to lead a pair of criminal investigations into possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information, authorizing the two prosecutors to follow all appropriate investigative leads within the executive and legislative branches of government.
Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, will direct separate probes that are already being conducted by the FBI.
"These two highly respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations," Holder said in a statement. "I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in pursuit of justice wherever it leads."
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 cyber-attacks on Iran.
The attorney general said Machen and Rosenstein "are fully authorized to prosecute criminal violations discovered as a result of their investigations and matters related to those violations."
Currently, Machen is leading a high-profile political corruption probe of officials in the District of Columbia. The latest development in that investigation came this week when District of Columbia Council chairman Kwame Brown resigned after being charged with lying about his income on bank loan applications.
Before becoming U.S. attorney, Machen helped lead the white-collar and internal investigation practices at the prominent Washington law firm of WilmerHale. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1997 to 2001.
Rosenstein was an associate independent counsel who worked for Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr from 1995 to 1997. He was co-counsel in the fraud trial of Jim and Susan McDougal, the former real estate partners of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both of the McDougals were convicted in a trial that also resulted in the conviction of then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he hopes that the Justice Department brings "the full force of the law against these criminals."
"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," Smith said in a statement.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Machen and Rosenstein "strong, capable, independent prosecutors" and said the Justice Department's consultation with the Judiciary and Intelligence committees was an aid to congressional oversight.