"Today, I assigned U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein to lead criminal investigations into recent instances of possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information," Holder said in a statement issued by the Department of Justice. "These two highly respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations currently being conducted by the FBI. I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice wherever it leads."
Holder said 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.
"I have notified members of Congress and plan to provide more information, as appropriate, to members of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees."
The order came after Republicans in Congress pushed for a special counsel to investigate leaks -- apparently coming from the executive branch -- that formed the basis for recent news stories on highly sensitive intelligence operations. They include stories in The New York Times on cyberattacks on Iran and on President Barack Obama's "kill list" for drone attacks.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday he planned to introduce a resolution calling for a special counsel, The Hill reported. McCain has suggested the Obama administration is responsible for the leaks to make him look good as he campaigns for re-election.
During a news conference Friday, Obama called McCain's suggestion "offensive." The White House has ruled out appointment of a special counsel in the matter..
The chairs of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the ranking minority members held a joint news conference Thursday. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who heads the House committee, said there needs to be "some sort of outside look" into the leaks.
In an interview on CNN, Rogers said he supports McCain's plan for a "sense of the Senate" resolution, Politico reported. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the ranking Democrat, stopped short of calling for a special counsel but said public officials need to understand that leaking classified information earns prison time.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, called McCain "grossly irresponsible" Wednesday for his suggestion the administration is deliberately leaking. Obama has told his staff to do what is needed to prevent leaks and identify leakers, Carney said.
Holder said unauthorized disclosure of classified information "can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated."
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