WASHINGTON — Maryland U.S. AttorneyRod J. Rosensteinwas one of two federal prosecutors appointed by Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday to lead criminal investigations into recent leaks of U.S. classified intelligence information.
The appointment, which Rosenstein declined to comment on, followed a pledge earlier Friday from President Barack Obama that his administration does not permit the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive material.
Holder assigned Rosenstein and U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. in the District of Columbia to open criminal probes into several recent disclosures after The New York Times printed detailed accounts of cyber warfare, the killing ofal-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and alleged "Kill Lists" maintained for targeting foreign terrorists.
The White House has come under intense criticism by conservative critics who contend that his campaign has been leaking the information to win positive news stories about his efforts protecting the U.S. and fighting global terrorism.
Of Rosenstein and Machen's appointments, Holder said, "These two highly respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations currently being conducted by the FBI." Holder did not explain who would investigate what.
He added that they will "doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice wherever it leads," and that he gave them full authority to "prosecute criminal violations discovered as a result of their investigations."
Rep.C.A. Dutch Ruppersbergerof Maryland, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who had joined other Intelligence Committee leaders in condemning intelligence leaks earlier this week, said he spoke with Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller on Friday, and is confident they are pursuing the investigations seriously.
"I had a conversation with Holder today and talked about the investigation, to make sure that he was going to pursue it in an aggressive and professional manner, and he has certainly said this is his focus."
Ruppersberger applauded Rosenstein's appointment as one of the lead leak investigators.
"What I know from Baltimore is he's very competent; he's very bipartisan," Ruppersberger said, noting that Rosenstein was nominated under PresidentGeorge W. Bush. "He's qualified. He's focused. He's balanced. He's fair. He's hardworking, and he has a good team."
Holder said he will advise the Judiciary and Intelligence committees "as appropriate" as the investigations get underway.
Earlier, at a short news conference Friday in the White House briefing room, Obama said he has "zero tolerance" for leaks of classified information. He said that leaks about national security matters make life harder for him and put American civilians and the military in harm's way, and that his administration tries to make sure that sources of such leaks "suffer consequences" for their actions.
"We don't play with that," Obama told reporters. Following the stories, Sen. John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, has called for a special prosecutor to investigate leaks, which he says are designed to portray Obama as a strong leader on national security matters.
Democrats have also expressed concern. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the recent spate of leaks could endanger American lives and "undermine America's national security."
Ruppersberger said the recent leaks are the worst he's seen in the last 10 years he has worked on intelligence matters.
"This is becoming a pattern that is very concerning, it's affecting our national security, and it can cost lives," Ruppersberger said. "Anybody who leaks information needs to be held accountable because it's a criminal offense."
In one recent article in The Times, unnamed officials discussed how the president reportedly directed the cyber attacks on the Iranian nuclear program. Other news reports have delved into the administration's program of secret drone attacks, including Obama's role in ordering them.
In the briefing room Friday morning, Obama dismissed the suggestions from Capitol Hill that the leaks were authorized, calling them "offensive" and "wrong."
When those reports "surface on the front page of a newspaper," he said, that "makes my job tougher."
Worse, they "touch on critical issues of war and peace," he said, and people involved in the covert operations "may be in danger" as a result of those leaks.
Rosenstein, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was sworn in as U.S. attorney for Maryland in 2005, after his nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. He'd previously held multiple positions in theU.S. Department of Justice.
Rosenstein has prosecuted well-known Republicans and Democrats over the years.
He prosecuted Alan B. Fabian, a millionaire entrepreneur, former charity organizer and Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty in 2008 to mail fraud and faking a tax return.
In 2011, he prosecutedJack B. Johnson, former DemocraticPrince George's Countyexecutive who pleaded guilty to extortion and admitted taking $400,000 in bribes.
Also in 2011, he prosecuted Democratic Sen. Ulysses Currie for corruption. Currie was acquitted.
Ruppersberger said the investigations alone won't fix the leak problem. Legislators will also have to consider if there are more steps they can take to ensure that leaks don't occur, including retraining everyone with access to classified information on the dangers of leaking it, he said.
"It's not just finding out who leaked what sometimes. Those investigations can go on for years. It's more about fixing the problem," Ruppersberger said. "We have to remind everybody who has clearance, who works for intelligence, that this is serious and if you leak you'll be held accountable. We have to change this recent culture of leaks."