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Cotton Blocks Nominees After Secret Service Chaffetz Probe

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced Monday he would place a hold on three ambassadorial nominations until there are consequences — and a criminal investigation — for Secret Service agents who allegedly accessed a congressman's private records.  

Cotton took to the Senate floor Monday afternoon to chastise the agency for, in his view, attempting to intimidate House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, as he conducted oversight of the Secret Service. An inspector general report revealed agents circulated Chaffetz's application to the Secret Service, which would potentially embarrass the congressman. On Monday, the inspector general reopened its investigation  following director Joseph P. Clancy's conflicting accounts of what and when he knew about the issue.  

"This is the exact kind of encroachment against which our founders warned," Cotton said on the floor. "The executive hasn't yet acted with anything like the gravity this matter deserves. Until it does, I intend to use the powers of my office to demand action, and to protect our constitutional order."  

As The Washington Post first reported , Cotton will place a hold on three ambassadorial nominees: Cassandra Butts for the Bahamas, Azita Raji for Sweden and Samuel Heins for Norway.  

As a practical matter, the three ambassadorial nominations would already be unable to advance. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has already been blockading State Department nominations over objections related to the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Other Obama administration civilian nominations have moved slowly since Republicans took the Senate majority at the beginning of the year, though there have not been many public objections.

A Cotton aide told CQ Roll Call the Arkansan is going to take the formal step of publishing his objections to executive branch nominations in the Congressional Record, starting with the three ambassador picks and perhaps moving elsewhere. Cotton said the Homeland Security Department — which has housed the Secret Service since it moved from the Treasury Department in the post-9/11 reorganization — does not have relevant pending nominations.

On the Senate floor, Cotton commended rank-and-file Secret Service agents for their dedication. He said the probe into Chaffetz's personnel file was the result of a few agents and failed leadership.

He singled out Clancy, noting Clancy was hired after a string of incidents led to his predecessor's resignation.

“If it turns out that Director Clancy knowingly misled the inspector general, he should resign or be fired," Cotton said. "He was hired to clean up wrongdoing at the Secret Service, not perpetrate it and cover it up."

Cotton said the executive branch had an "indifferent response" to to the situation thus far and called for a criminal investigation into the alleged wrongdoing, led by a federal prosecutor. He also called on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to take disciplinary actions against those involved, and to explain those actions to Congress.

“Let me just say for the record, these aren’t requests. These are demands," Cotton said. "They're quite modest demands given these most serious constitutional stakes."

"Every officer of the United States, from the president to the newest clerk must understand that Congress will fend off this kind of executive encroachment," Cotton added later, "and there will be severe consequences for attempting to intimidate the people's representatives or obstructing us from doing our jobs."