As the leak investigation into the unauthorized disclosures of classified information enters into its third week, White House staffers have been warned not to delete any emails or destroy other information that could be pertinent to investigators, according to officials familiar with the matter.
The warning email was sent internally in an office-wide message from administration lawyers last week, according to two U.S. officials, the latest indication that the two FBI investigations into the alleged disclosure of classified information is aimed, at least in part, at the White House.
The email included senior members of the White House staff as well, according to the officials.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment, directing BuzzFeed to President Obama’s strong denial at a press conference in early June that the administration had authorized national security leaks.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said at the time, adding that “the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that they didn't come from this White House.”
(Although it’s unclear what writers the president is referring to, the last statement appears to be at odds with what journalist David Sanger wrote in his own book, Confront and Conceal. Sanger attributes much of the information in his book to “almost every senior member of the president’s national security team.”)
The investigations, which have rattled the White House, have been ramping up since June 9, the day Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he had appointed two Department of Justice lawyers to oversee them.
According to a report by Mark Hosenball in Reuters, the investigations are focused on the disclosures during an undercover operation that involved a Saudi double agent and an underwear bomb, as well as the secret cyber war program against Iran, code named Olympic Games.
Republicans have called for the investigation to be even more far-reaching, including into the so-called “Kill List” story that appeared on the front page of the New York Times.
However, according to Reuters, no “crime” report was filed for that story, and it appears that the Kill List story was authorized by the White House in a way that would allow them to talk openly about a supposedly classified program.
A number of senators, including Joe Lieberman, also called for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the leaks.
One Congressional source echoed concerns that the investigation wouldn’t be “credible” if top officials in the White House weren’t interviewed, and worried that Holder was too close to the president to be an effective leak inquisitor.
Holder recently attended the wedding of Valerie Jarrett’s daughter with the first family in Chicago, one of the handful of close friends to attend the exclusive gathering.
The Associated Press, which published the original story on the underwear bomb plot, has not yet been subpoenaed or approached by the government.
Sanger, author of the book with extensive information about the Olympic Games program, did not respond to a request for comment.
According to legal experts, before the government asks journalists to reveal their sources, they have to exhaust all other methods at their disposal, which means it could drag out for months, and into a second Obama term.
“This is going to go on for a long time,” says one source familiar with the investigation.
However, there is concern that federal investigators, focusing on the ubiquitous data trails, can access journalists communications, bypassing the always messy showdown with a member of the press.
“I don’t believe any of my reporting jeopardized national security and I am highly doubtful that any of the other leaks did,” Dan Klaidman, author of the book To Kill or Capture, told BuzzFeed. “I think [the difficulties of national security reporting] ebbs and flows, but with the proliferation of leak investigations I think we're in a difficult period now that may be about to get even harder.”