Attorney General Eric Holder assigned two prosecutors to look into classified document leaks that fed two New York Times articles this past week, further heightening the profile of a debate between Democrats and Republicans about secrecy and the press.
In a press release published on Friday, the U.S. Attorney General said U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein would lead separate FBI investigations into who may have given reporters top secret information about national security operations.
I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice wherever it leads, Holder wrote.
Some critics have accused the Obama administration for leaking the information to help Obama's re-election prospects, an allegation the president called offensive on Friday.
The controversy unfolded when the New York Times ran two articles about the United States' national security operations. In one story, Jo Becker and Scott Shane take a close look at President Obama's hands-on approach to counter-terrorism and details aabout a so-called Kill List that's at the heart of the United State's drone strikes.
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Another article is an excerpt from David Sanger's new book, Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, and it describes Obama's plan to accelerate cyber-attack on Iran's nuclear program.
The United States' use of drones to execute al-Qaeda officials, as well as its use of the Stuxnet computer work to weaken or destroy Iran's nuclear program, have long been open secrets. Just earlier this week, the Pentagon confirmed that a predator drone in Pakistan killed the terror group's second-in command, Yahya al-Libi.
But the White House and Congress are furious over the possibility of unauthorized disclosures of top secret information. A group of Congressmen, including Republican Sen. John McCain, condemned the national security leaks and launched an investigation into their source on Wednesday, the Huffington Post reported.
Thanks to the upcoming election, the controversy has also launched a partisan debate about whether or not a Washington insider is leaking information to help Obama beat Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the fall. As the New York Times summarizes in an article about the controversy and backlash, the issue has Congressional Republicans accusing the Obama administration of leaking classified information for political advantage and Democrats lodging their own protests about high-level disclosures.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that these recent leaks of highly classified information, all of which have the effect of making the president look strong and decisive on national security in the middle of his re-election campaign, have a deeper political motivation, Sen. McCain, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, according to the New York Times.
When asked what he thought about the document leaks, Obama said it was offensive for people to assume or believe one of his aides was responsible.
The notion that my White House would purposefully release classified national security information is offensive, it's wrong, Obama said in a press briefing on Friday, shortly before Holder launched the federal investigation.