U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called June 12, 2012, for Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation, saying Holder is stonewalling about a botched investigation that involved moving guns across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Holder disputed Cornyn's characterization of his responsiveness about Operation Fast and Furious, also pointing out he ended the gun-walking program.
Yet Cornyn also aired another criticism, both at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and in a commentary placed the same day on the Fox News website. In the commentary, Cornyn said Ronald Machen, one of two U.S. attorneys just named by Holder to lead the government’s investigation of information leaks, "has donated thousands of dollars to President Obama’s political campaigns; he vetted vice presidential candidates for the Obama team in 2008; and he got his first job as a federal prosecutor from, you guessed it, Eric Holder. In short, Mr. Machen’s inquiry will not seem truly independent. It is insulting for the attorney general to pretend otherwise."
We wondered if Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, is indeed a former Obama campaign donor who vetted vice presidential hopefuls.
Who leaked information has been a hot topic in Washington since the New York Times published lengthy news articles on May 29, 2012 and June 1, 2012 detailing Obama’s oversight of secret terrorist kill lists and his hand in planning cyber-attacks on Iran.
Republicans including Cornyn have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to track down leakers.
Obama has condemned any leaks as well, while Holder on June 8, 2012, announced he was appointing Machen and Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, to lead criminal investigations into possible recent instances of unauthorized disclosures of classified information.
Machen, a former assistant U.S. attorney, won Senate confirmation in his post in February 2010. Rosenstein, initially appointed to his job by President George W. Bush, was retained by Obama.
Holder said: "These two highly respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations currently being conducted by the FBI. I have every confidence in their abilities to doggedly follow the facts and the evidence in the pursuit of justice wherever it leads."
At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cornyn challenged Machen’s independence.
After Holder confirmed that he had earlier hired Machen as an assistant U.S. attorney, Cornyn asked him: "Would it surprise you to know that he is a political contributor to President Obama’s campaign and indeed served as a volunteer in Obama for America and assisted in the vetting of potential vice presidential candidates?"
Holder replied: "I am confident that he has the ability, the capacity to investigate this case in a nonpartisan, independent, thorough and aggressive way."
Asked for backup information, Cornyn spokeswoman Megan Mitchell later pointed us to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes campaign donations, indicating that Machen, identified on the center’s site as a resident of Silver Spring, Md., and an attorney in the WilmerHale firm, donated a total of $4,100, in four chunks, to Obama’s presidential campaign from Feb. 8, 2008, through Sept. 30, 2008.
In February 2010, the firm, whose full name is Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, issued a press release identifying Machen as a partner. Machen joined the firm in 1993, then worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1997 to 2001 before returning to the firm, according to the release.
Mitchell also pointed us to a Jan. 19, 2010, news blog post in Legal Times, which covers legal news in Washington and nationally. The post says Machen revealed on a Senate questionnaire he filled out fo as he faced confirmation that he had volunteered for Obama’s campaign and vetted vice presidential prospects for Obama’s campaign. The blog post says vetting work "generally consists of standard background checks of personal information, public speeches, and writings."
We emailed Obama’s campaign about Cornyn's claim. Spokeswoman Kara Carscaden declined to comment except to stress Holder’s response to Cornyn about Machen’s ability to perform his newly assigned task.
We are not judging here whether Machen's donations to Obama's 2008 campaign and his self-declared vetting of vice presidential prospects disqualify him from fully investigating any leaks. That said, Cornyn’s statement rates True.