Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman on Friday chided a leading Republican on his panel for divulging details of an unpublished investigation into the Secret Service’s prostitution scandal this spring.
In a memo to the full committee Friday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., laid out several points that he says are detailed in a report written by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.
The memo said the first phase of that report was completed late last month and that subcommittee staff reviewed it at the inspector general’s office. Staffers were not allowed to keep a copy of the report, though, and the document has not been made public.
Lieberman blasted Johnson’s memo, calling it an “unauthorized leak of sensitive, selective information from the IG’s report” and saying Johnson’s assessment is unfair to the Secret Service and agency Director Mark Sullivan.
“Both have served our nation honorably and ably for a long time and deserve the benefit of a presumption of innocence unless real evidence leads to a different conclusion,” Lieberman, I-Conn., said in a written statement. “I will await the inspector general’s finished report before making any judgments.”
Lieberman and the committee’s ranking Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, requested in May that the inspector general’s office carry out its own investigation rather than only reviewing the Secret Service’s probe into allegations that agents brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms during an April trip to Cartagena, Colombia, prior to President Obama’s arrival in the country for a summit.
Johnson, who serves as ranking Republican on the Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee, questioned in his memo why Sullivan, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have said they have not seen evidence indicating any member of the White House advance team was engaged in improper conduct or behavior on the trip. The inspector general, Johnson said, found hotel records that suggest female foreign nationals signed in as guests to rooms registered to a White House Communications Agency employee and a member of the White House staff.
The memo laid out concerns that the inspector general has not been able to interview foreign nationals or access foreign records during its investigation because the Justice Department has denied the office’s request for a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty since there are no criminal proceedings involved.
Without that treaty, Johnson said, the office can’t access hotel records from 14 of the 15 hotels where U.S. personnel stayed in Cartagena and can’t interview the prostitutes, hotel staff or employees of local establishments there.
Johnson took issue with the fact that the Secret Service was allowed to interview foreign nationals as part of its investigation while the inspector general’s office has not had that ability.
“It is unclear why an organization led by a political appointee should be granted this access while the independent Office of the Inspector General is denied it,” the memo stated. “Without the ability to interview foreign nationals and access hotel records, it is impossible to determine if names associated with White House personnel are recorded as having checked in overnight female guests during their stay in Colombia.”
The inspector general’s office cannot make a case for turning its probe into a criminal investigation because the Justice Department says it can’t accept the office’s report since the trial attorney in charge is working another case, according to Johnson.
“It is unclear why the workload of one trial attorney at DOJ would prevent the department from making a determination that would enable the OIG to conduct a full and independent investigation into such an important matter,” he said in the memo. “It is critical that these barriers be removed to allow the DHS OIG full access to foreign nationals and foreign records, and to ensure that the OIG’s efforts are truly independent prior to the office commencing the next phase of its investigation.”
Johnson’s memo said there are discrepancies between public statements and information uncovered in the inspector general’s investigation that suggest administration officials misled or withheld information from Congress.
Specifically, Johnson notes that Sullivan told senators during a hearing in May that information at that time indicated that none of the prostitutes was involved in intelligence or criminal activities.
One of the prostitutes’ names was flagged in an intelligence database and is “still of concern,” according to the memo.
But a source familiar with the inspector general’s report has said the probe into the possible ties of that particular prostitute has come up inconclusive and that it’s important to note that the report ultimately concludes that the president’s security was never jeopardized by Secret Service agents’ actions on the Cartagena trip.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.