Holder defends independence of DOJ investigation into national-security leaks

Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Justice Department’s ability to be independent as it investigates national-security leaks in the face of Republican calls for a special counsel.

Holder said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday that the two U.S. attorneys he appointed will “follow leads wherever they are, whether in the executive branch or other component of government."

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“This committee and the American people can have great faith in the two people I've asked to lead this investigation,” Holder said.

Many Republicans in the Senate have called for a special counsel to lead an investigation independent of the executive branch, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will introduce a non-binding resolution pressing for a special counsel on Tuesday.

“I believe the only way to truly get to the bottom of these dangerous leaks is to appoint an independent special prosecutor,” said Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supports McCain's resolution, said, "If there was ever a need for an outside special counsel, it is now.”

But Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who also sits on Judiciary, said Tuesday that she would oppose McCain’s resolution and did not believe a special counsel was necessary.

Feinstein’s statement highlights a division between Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence leak probe as both parties have tried to put forward a bipartisan approach to the leaks.

“To have a fight over how we do this now will set back any leak investigation,” Feinstein said. “These are two scrupulous men, they are both independent, and I have no reason to believe why they can’t work with the FBI and assemble a very strong prosecution team where warranted.”

Holder said that a special counsel would take too much time to set up, and that appointing two U.S. attorneys, Maryland’s Rod Rosenstein and D.C.’s Ronald Machen Jr., was the best course.

“The need is for us to operate with some degree of haste and speed,” Holder said. “That’s why I picked two really good U.S. attorneys.”