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Topic: Ronald Machen

WH Needs Special Prosecutor Now

Senate Republicans have been calling on President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the national security leaks from the White House. This is even more critical in the wake of the Eric Holder contempt vote, as the same Obama-appointed U.S. attorney is now in charge of dealing with the charges against Holder and the investigation into the intelligence leaks.

The most obvious problem is the conflict of interest. It’s doubtful that U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen, an Obama appointee, can fairly investigate his own boss (Eric Holder), or his boss’s boss (President Obama) in either the leak cases or the Fast and Furious stonewalling.

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Senate Republicans have been calling on President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the national security leaks from the White House. This is even more critical in the wake of the Eric Holder contempt vote, as the same Obama-appointed U.S. attorney is now in charge of dealing with the charges against Holder and the investigation into the intelligence leaks.

The most obvious problem is the conflict of interest. It’s doubtful that U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen, an Obama appointee, can fairly investigate his own boss (Eric Holder), or his boss’s boss (President Obama) in either the leak cases or the Fast and Furious stonewalling.

But even putting that aside, Machen has now been referred two big, high-profile cases in a matter of weeks, both of which are vital to the public interest. The Washington Post reported last week that Machen already had a full plate, and his staff was overwhelmed with D.C. corruption prosecutions even before the leak case and Holder contempt charge got to his desk:

As if investigating D.C. public corruption wasn’t enough, Machen and his prosecutors were handed another difficult task June 8: spearheading a probe of leaks of classified material to reporters. That assignment came the same day that former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud charges; Brown resigned just days earlier when he was charged in federal court by prosecutors who, with FBI agents, began by investigating discrepancies in his 2008 council campaign.

Although overall attrition has held steady, Machen has lost at least a half-dozen experienced and respected supervisors. In recent weeks, at least six prosecutors have said they will leave the 35-lawyer homicide unit.

A federal hiring freeze has made it difficult to replace those prosecutors, and those remaining are beginning to complain of burnout.

Can Machen’s office reasonably be expected to give the new workload the attention it deserves? Can he be trusted to pursue these cases fairly? The answer to both questions, at this point, seems to be no.

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Holder Found in Contempt of Congress

As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

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As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

The criminal charge isn’t the only avenue the House GOP is pursuing. They may be able to get some results through civil action, CNN reports:

House Republicans are well aware of this recent history, which helps explain the separate measure authorizing a civil action. That resolution, according to a GOP spokesman, would allow the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department’s failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration’s assertion of executive privilege.

Even then, it will take awhile before Republicans get any documents they may be owed — likely too long to matter in the upcoming election. But that doesn’t mean the White House is off the hook. Politically, this looks terrible. To have an attorney general held in contempt for withholding documents related to the murder of a border patrol officer is bad enough. To have a president who is seen as actively protecting this attorney general is much worse, particularly in an administration that already has a history of eschewing independent investigations.

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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.

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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?

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