Looks like Barack Obama’s statement on the private sector doing “fine” wasn’t the only booby trap from his press conference yesterday. Asked during the morning event about the series of leaks from his administration and their oh-so-coincidentally complimentary view of his own leadership, Obama pronounced himself offended by the insinuation that his team would leak sensitive information in an election year to save their jobs:
Later that evening, however, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice had opened an investigation into these very leaks:
Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday he had assigned two U.S. attorneys to lead investigations into the possible leaking of state secrets.
“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement.
Holder assigned U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr., a Democratic appointee, and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, a holdover GOP appointee, to lead the investigations.
“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,” said Holder.
This looks like a compromise between an internal DoJ probe and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Obama and the White House had rejected the appointment of the latter just a day earlier, but the rising bipartisan anger — and then the press interest in it — clearly forced their hand. While Democrats objected to the Republicans’ accusation of political motivation behind the leaks, everyone on Capitol Hill was outraged by the leaks themselves, and refusing to investigate it at all was simply not an option after yesterday’s presser.
I’m no fan of special prosecutors; the mechanism almost always produces a prosecutor running amok, looking for any crime to justify the continuing probe, without any effective oversight or accountability. That’s true in Republican and Democratic administrations. The Department of Justice should normally conduct its own investigations and ensure that the investigations don’t run far afield from their mandate and the purported crime that required the probe in the first place. In Holder’s DoJ, however, there is little confidence that they have the integrity and competence to investigate this issue, after the serial misrepresentations made to Congress by Holder himself and his deputies in the Fast and Furious probe. This choice, to have two competing probes by US Attorneys appointed by different Presidents, looks like a good compromise.
That should not keep Congress from conducting its own investigation, however. The DoJ is part of the executive branch, and it’s Congress’ duty to ensure that the executive branch hasn’t indulged in corruption or worse in pursuit of its own power. The Senate and the House could follow up on Holder’s actions by appointing ad hoc bipartisan panels of inquiry into White House leaks, or perhaps form a joint committee where Republicans in the House balance out Democrats in the Senate.
Clearly, that’s what Holder’s announcement is intended to prevent. It shows that the White House may be hitting the panic button over more than just a revealing remark about Obama’s cluelessness on economics.