Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. late Friday afternoon appointed two U.S. attorneys to lead separate investigations into unauthorized leaks of classified information, giving the two prosecutors full latitude to follow all potential 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 work with the FBI and lead a pair of criminal investigations into the leaks.
"I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice where it leads," Mr. Holder said.
In appointing Mr. Machen and Mr. Rosenstein, the attorney general made clear that they are fully authorized to prosecute criminal violations as a result of their investigation, consult with members of the intelligence community and follow all investigative leads regardless of where they originate.
Mr. Holder said he has notified members of Congress and said he plans to brief members of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees "as appropriate."
"The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated," Mr. Holder said in a statement. "The Justice Department takes seriously cases in which government employees and contractors entrusted with classified information are suspected of willfully disclosing such classified information to those not entitled to it, and we will do so in these cases as well."
President Obama defiantly defended himself Friday from a barrage of criticism for a series of national security leaks, most recently a report in the New York Times about U.S. cyber attacks on Iranian computers that run its nuclear enrichment facilities.
During a press conference with reporters, Mr. Obama denied the leaks were intentional and deliberately orchestrated to help boost his foreign policy bona fides ahead of the November election.
"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information if offensive," he told reporters. "It's wrong."
Critics led by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who lost to Mr. Obama in 2008, have called the leaks a serious security breach and unprecedented in recent memory. Mr. McCain blames the Obama administration for leaking the information to bolster Mr. Obama's reputation as a hands-on, decisive leader.
Mr. Obama pointedly called his critics out Friday, saying they "need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office."
''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.
The president said his administration has ''zero tolerance'' for such leaks and pledged to launch a thorough international administration investigation into the matter.
Friday afternoon, Mr. Holder announced the appointment of the two U.S. attorneys.
''We have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences,'' Mr. Obama said during the press conference. ''In some cases, it's criminal. These are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.''
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