Trying to force the fight over intelligence leaks straight to the Senate floor, Republicans on Tuesday introduced a resolution that would put the chamber’s members on record over whether they think an independent counsel is needed to look at the Obama administration.
The resolution marks an escalation in what is turning into a major political firestorm, complete with all the makings of the typical Washington scandal and complicated by the life-and-death national security matters at its heart.
Republicans have demanded that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. name an independent counsel with special investigative powers to look into a series of leaks ranging from drone strikes to cyberattacks on Iran, which all sides say exposed classified programs to dangerous levels of public scrutiny.
But Mr. Holder and the administration have refused, instead naming two U.S. attorneys to lead an investigation.
Testifying to a Senate committee Tuesday, Mr. Holder said journalists could be forced to give information in the inquiry if investigators can’t learn what they need to know from other sources.
“The mechanisms we have in place are good ones and we have shown in the past no hesitancy to employ them,” he said.
Mr. Holder said the two U.S. attorneys he named are “good lawyers” and “tough prosecutors” both parties can have faith in. He said he couldn’t discuss in open session the reasons for appointing two men to lead the team rather than just a single individual, but he said they have separate matters they’ll each be looking at.
Mr. Holder said he and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III have already been interviewed in one of the investigations in an effort to clear them, since they both had knowledge of the issues under investigation.
The attorney general said it was a “serious” interview, not a pro-forma matter, done by FBI agents.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden called for special counsels to look into George W. Bush administration leaks and said it’s hypocritical for the White House now to reject similar calls.
“I think you’re missing the fact that this is a very big deal. And you’re handling it in a way that creates suspicion where there should not be,” Mr. Graham said.
Republicans also said given Mr. Holder’s past issues with having “misled” Congress on the Fast and Furious “gun-walking” operations, they have little faith in his decision-making when it comes to transparency.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said he’s adding his name to those in the GOP who think Mr. Holder should resign.
But Mr. Holder said that’s not going to happen.
“I don’t have any intention of resigning,” he said. As for a potential second Obama term, he said it’ll be up to the president whether he stays.
The leaks under question came in forthcoming books and already-published articles detailing classified programs such as the U.S. drone “kill list” that targets suspected terrorist leaders.
At a news conference Friday, Mr. Obama denied that anyone in his White House was involved in the leaks. Hours later, Mr. Holder announced the new investigation that would be led by U.S. attorneys.
The Bush administration’s Justice Department named a special prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, to look into leaks involving the Bush White House and the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Mr. Holder said in this case he’s tapped two U.S. attorneys who can conduct the same breadth of investigation, even though they don’t have special counsel status.
Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said she’ll oppose the resolution, chiefly because a special counsel would take too long to do work that must be done quickly. She said the Plame investigation stretched for years.
“To have a fight over how we do this now will set back any leak investigation,” she said.