Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday fended off Republican demands that he appoint a special counsel outside of the Justice Department to look into national security leaks.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley said they want the attorney general to appoint a special counsel to look into the leaks, rather than Holder's choices, U.S. Attorneys Ron Machen and Rod Rosenstein, who hold political appointments.
Graham and Grassley were referring to a procedure by which a special counsel appointed from outside the Justice Department conducts the leak investigations.
Holder praised the two U.S. attorneys as experienced and highly respected.
"We have people who have shown independence, an ability to be thorough and who have the guts to ask tough questions," Holder told the committee. "And the charge that I've given them is to follow the leads wherever they are, whether it is — wherever it is in the executive branch or some other component of government. I have great faith in their abilities."
Machen and Rosenstein were appointed to oversee investigations into who leaked information about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound flight.
Not far from where Holder was testifying, Sen. John McCain, President Barack Obama's 2008 rival and the harshest critic of the White House over the leaks, introduced a non-binding resolution calling for a special counsel. He was joined by more than a dozen GOP senators in pressing for the measure.
McCain called it the "almost unprecedented release of information which directly affects our national security. I can't think of any time that I have seen such breaches of ongoing national security programs as has been the case here."
Graham, R-S.C., said on the Senate floor that not appointing a special counsel would set a "precedent that will haunt the country and this body and future White Houses in a way that I think is very disturbing."
Both Republicans quoted Democratic demands during George W. Bush administration for a special counsel in the disclosure of a CIA employee's identity.
But McCain's move to get swift Senate passage of the measure was rejected by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who said the effort was premature.
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