WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Justice Department Tuesday disclosed its prosecutors are now assisting the State Department Inspector General in the investigation into the breaching of passport files of the three leading presidential candidates by State Department contractors.
The involvement of Justice Department lawyers appears to represent a shift in the agency's position since last Friday when Attorney General Michael Mukasey indicated no plan to join the investigation until the State Department I.G. looked into the matter, and requested assistance.
Mukasey added Friday that in the event someone walked into the Justice Department "with a box full of evidence", that could change his stance.
"After the Attorney General's remarks on Friday, Justice Department prosecutors met with officials from the State Department Inspector General's office on this matter, and are coordinating with the Office of Inspector General on its investigative efforts," said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr. "Due to the ongoing nature of these efforts, the Department will have no further comment at this time," Carr said.
A knowledgeable official who asked not to be identified because of the pending probe said the State Department had initiated the contact and follow-up meeting with Justice prosecutors some time after Mukasey spoke. The official said the guidance requested by State officials does not constitute what could be described as a "joint investigation" between the two Executive Departments.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack had said Monday that the Justice Department had an "open invitation to be involved in the process" and that it would be "up to the Department of Justice as to what sort of involvement they will have."
Several members of Congress have urged the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation to determine whether charges should be brought.
The latest such call came Tuesday from the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and the panel's ranking Republican Arlen Specter, R-Penn.
"The Justice Department should not wait to be handed 'a box full of evidence' as you said at your recent briefing, before determining whether Federal laws were broken," Leahy and Specter said in a joint letter to Mukasey. "We both strongly believe that our government has a duty to protect the private information of its citizens," the Senators said.
The State Department has confirmed that contract personnel had peered into Sen. Barack Obama's file on three separate occasions, and had made unauthorized entry once each into the passport files of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain.
–CNN's Terry Frieden and Elise Labott