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.