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Why Did DOJ Appoint Two Prosecutors for Leak Investigation?

Why did the Department of Justice appoint two prosecutors to lead its leak investigations? That’s the question Sen. Jon Kyl asked Eric Holder during his testimony at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing. Holder gave a hopelessly vague and evasive answer, but Kyl’s question is worth asking again, given what we know about the two U.S. Attorneys.

One of these prosecutors, Ronald Machen, is an Obama appointee who donated $4,350 to the Obama campaign, as the blog Fire Andrea Mitchell pointed out. The other is a holdover Bush appointee, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

So one Bush appointee and one Obama donor should balance each other out, right? Actually, no — not necessarily. The DOJ has opened two separate leak investigations with different scopes, and the prosecutors could be asked to lead them separately.

Here is why this could pose a problem. So far, we have no official word on which leaks each of these probes will be looking into — remember, there have been multiple leaks recently, including the drone “Kill List,” the Flame cyberattack, and the al-Qaeda affiliate story. Will one prosecutor be investigating the Flame story, while another looks into the al-Qaeda Yemen disclosure? We don’t know, and Holder has refused to say.

But, based on a recent Wall Street Journal report, it appears that neither of the two DOJ investigations include the New York Times’s “Kill List” story — the most overtly political and pro-Obama article out of the bunch. Lawfare Blog’s Jack Goldstein draws this conclusion:

If the WSJ is right, it would appear that the investigations do not concern leaks about drone attacks and related matters that, like leaks about the Iranian cyber-operation and the AQAP infiltration, have been the subject of recent congressional complaint.  That would make the leak investigations relatively narrow, and would be relatively good news for the White House since, according to Daniel Klaidman’s book and other indications, some White House officials have participated in disclosure of some of the classified information related to drone attacks.

The Journal reports that one of the investigations is focused on the al-Qaeda Yemen affiliate story, and the other is on the Iranian cyberattack story.

It seems unlikely that the al-Qaeda informant leak was politically motivated, even if it was put out there by high-level administration officials. But the Times’s Iranian cyberattack story was a different beast altogether. From the headline to the Situation Room details, the leaks were clearly a) from top administration officials, and b) intended to make Obama look as good as possible.

In other words, the Iranian cyberattack investigation seems much, much more likely to uncover damaging revelations about the White House than the al-Qaeda informant probe. The question is, will both prosecutors be leading the Iranian cyberattack probe? And if not, which one will the DOJ put in charge of it — the Bush appointee or the Obama donor?