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Attorney General Eric Holder announced late today he has appointed two federal prosecutors to investigate a series of potential leaks of classified national security information.
District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein have been tapped to lead the criminal investigation into the highly publicized disclosures of material involving previously secret cyber attacks on Iran, a so-called terrorist "kill list" and an extensive drone operation.
“These two highly-respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations currently being conducted by the FBI," Holder said in a statement.
“In carrying out their assignments, U.S. Attorneys Machen and Rosenstein are fully authorized to prosecute criminal violations discovered as a result of their investigations and matters related to those violations, consult with members of the Intelligence Community and follow all appropriate investigative leads within the Executive and Legislative branches of government," the statement continued.
Holder said he notified relevant members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees and said he plans to provide them with further information "as appropriate."
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement that he hoped the culprit or culprits will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“I hope the Justice Department will bring the full force of the law against these criminals," Smith said. "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.”
On Thursday, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller to receive briefings and express concern over the recent and substantial security leaks.
Republicans in particular have pushed for a special prosecutor, but so far the administration has denied that such an appointment would be necessary.
At a press conference Thursday, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said that information requests from his panel to both the FBI and Department of Justice's national security division were rejected because both agencies indicated they could potentially be implicated in the leaks.
President Barack Obama faced tough questioning on the matter in a rare briefing room appearance earlier today.
Obama denied that any administration official "purposely" divulged secret information for political gain and emphasized that there would be consequences for any official found to be in violation of the law. Leaking classified material is a federal crime.
Holder reiterated the seriousness of such breaches in his statement announcing the two prosecutors, who will be under his purview.
“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated," Holder said. "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 it."