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U.S. Attorney for Md. Rosenstein vs. the political hot potato

The U.S. Attorney for Maryland may encounter pushback from government agencies and politicians as he leads an investigation into recent national security leaks, but government officials and lawyers said that Rod J. Rosenstein is more than prepared to meet the challenge.

U.S. Attorney for Maryland, Rod J. Rosenstein

“He is a fine prosecutor and a fine guy with extraordinary qualifications,” said Andrew Radding, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for Maryland and a current partner at Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler LLC. “It’s going to be a minefield because people are already sniping. It’s a political hot potato, but if anyone can handle it, Rod can.”

Rosenstein and Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, will head an investigation into disclosures of classified information to various news outlets, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Friday.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Rosenstein is known for his independence and would “take the investigation where it needs to go.”

“He is what a prosecutor should be…,” Cardin said. “He will let the facts go where they may. He is known for his efficiency. He is business-like. He has no political agenda. He is the right type of person to head this type of investigation.”

News media including The New York Times published stories on security secrets including United States drone strikes, a computer virus attack on Iran’s nuclear program and counterterrorism assassination targets which prompted government officials to cry out for an investigation into the leaks.

“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated,” Holder said in a news release.

Holder decided against appointing a special counsel to investigate, despite continuing calls to do so from Republicans including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Instead, Holder appointed Rosenstein, a Bush appointee who, at this point, has held his post just as long in the Obama administration; and Machen, an Obama appointee who began serving in 2010. The two will lead separate investigations into the breach, which had previously been led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a news release from the Office of the U.S. Attorney General.

The two can consult with members of the intelligence community and are authorized to prosecute any criminal violations they uncover, the news release said. A special counsel, however, has the right to subpoena reporters and their notes, whereas Rosenstein and Machen will have to ask Holder to sign off on a subpoena.

“I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice wherever it leads,” Holder said in a statement.

Radding, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1972 to 1977, said he thought Rosenstein will face pressure from both political parties while investigating the leaks. Republicans accused President Obama last week of purposely leaking the information to make himself look like a strong, commanding leader, an allegation the president publicly denied.

“Clearly it’s a political football here and everyone has their own interests,” Radding said. “If people leave [Rosenstein] alone, he will get to the bottom of it.”

Radding said he also thought Rosenstein might face challenges working with FBI agents who were already investigating the leaks.

“In this U.S. Attorney’s Office, prosecutors and agents work hand-in-hand,” Radding said. “This office has had a very close relationship with investigating agencies and Rod knows how to work with them. There’s always a little bit of a pushback when someone is put in charge of somebody who was previously doing it.”

Senate and House representatives are drafting legislation further limiting access to classified information and possibly creating penalties for those who divulge national security secrets, the Associated Press reported.

Cardin said he hoped the investigation would hold those responsible for the leaks accountable for their actions and serve as a warning to others with access to state secrets.

“We want a clear message to people handling information that they do not just have a responsibility as custodian of information, they have a responsibility under our laws to keep it protected,” Cardin said.

Rosenstein was sworn in as a U.S. Attorney in July 2005, a post he was appointed to by then-President George W. Bush.

In 2007, Bush also nominated him to a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the nomination died without a hearing after Cardin and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., opposed it.

Rosenstein worked as an associate independent counsel for prosecutor Ken Starr from 1995 to 1997 during the Whitewater investigations into former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s real estate investments.

He was hired as an assistant U.S. attorney by Lynne A. Battaglia, who left the office when she was named to the Maryland Court of Appeals. He worked in the Justice Department as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Tax Division from 2001 to 2005.

Radding said the high-profile appointment to investigate the security leaks could only help further Rosenstein’s career whether he eventually goes into private practice or stays in government.

“I think with Rod’s background, it’s just another piece of visibility to an otherwise fine career,” Radding said.