Senators seek independent leak probe

A group of Republican senators is pressing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to immediately appoint an independent counsel to investigate an “avalanche” of national security leaks.

In a letter to Mr. Holder circulated Tuesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and signed by 30 other GOP senators, the lawmakers said the flow of leaks reported to have come from inside the Obama administration is a “grave and sensitive matter” that shouldn’t be left to an inside inquiry.

“[T]he United States Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch, whether a law has been broken or not. It is time for Congress to fulfill that constitutional responsibility in this matter,” the letter says.

The senators added that “if the bar for an outside special counsel were met in the cases of Valerie Plame and Jack Abramoff” - investigations pushed by congressional Democrats during the administration of George W. Bush - “it is far exceeded here.”

“We need a special counsel. We need someone who the American people can trust and we need to stop the leaks that are endangering the lives of those men and women who are serving our country with valor and courage,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who signed the letter.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and a vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said the number of leaks coming out of the U.S. intelligence community is unprecedented.

“I’ve dealt with intelligence leaders who are partners of the United States in virtually every part of the world. And I can just tell you that our partners are very concerned about what’s happening in Washington right now with respect to these leaks and the reaction of the administration to these leaks,” said Mr. Chambliss, who also signed the letter.

Mr. Holder has appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate leaked details of an al Qaeda plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound airline flight and U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program. The attorney general said an outside counsel isn’t necessary because he trusts that the investigators, Ron Machen and Rod Rosenstein, will conduct a thorough, impartial investigation.

The administration has denied the leaks have come from the White House and called the accusation “offensive” - a response Mr. Chambliss said “offends me to no end.”

“What the president ought to be saying is that this is very damaging to the country and we’re going to do everything we can to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

The senators’ request comes a day after Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper announced his office immediately will require intelligence agents to take polygraph test to determine if they have disclosed classified information.

Mr. Clapper also said the Intelligence Community inspector general will lead independent investigations of selected unauthorized disclosure cases when the Justice Department declines to prosecute them.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican and an intelligence committee member who didn’t sign the Holder letter, called the inspector general’s decision a “key initiative.”

But Mr. McCain said Mr. Clapper’s steps, while “laudable,” weren’t enough.

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