DEA head grilled over outlandish misconduct allegations against agents

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart failed to satisfy her critics before a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday when she had to answer for revelations that agents under her attended more than a dozen sex parties with drug cartel funded prostitutes, among a string of other outlandish misconduct allegations that received little or no punishment.

The members of the committee scoffed at Leonhart’s claims that she was unable to fire anyone for the allegations made over the last decade because of the bureaucratic nature of the administration.

“What would it take to get fired at the DEA?” Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, asked. “The DEA agents I used to work with were worried about using their cars to pick up dry-cleaning.”

“I can’t fire. I can’t recommend a penalty. There’s a guide that the deciding officials abide by. They have a penalty guide they look at and the penalty guide for this activity is anywhere from reprimand to removal,” Leonhart responded.

“Honestly, what power do you have?” Gowdy continued. “You have to work with agents over whom you can’t discipline? You can’t control the security clearance. What the hell do you get to do?”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz outlined a particular incident where a DEA agent was alleged to have thrown a glass at a prostitute, striking her in the head and causing her to bleed, all witnessed by a security guard who debunked the agent’s claim that the woman fell. The punishment in that case: two weeks unpaid time off.

“You send them on a vacation,” Chaffetz mocked.

The attorney general directed the department security officer to review the security clearances of the DEA agents accused of having engaged in sexual misconduct to ensure that those agents continue to qualify for those clearances, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.

Chaffetz later questioned “If someone murdered someone at the DEA, would (he or she) be fired?” To which replied Leonhart that as a result of an arrest for murder, he or she would then be terminated.

In addition, when the allegations did come to light, the incidents involving prostitutes, brothels, and sexual harassment that occurred at overseas posts were only treated as local matters and senior administration officials were not made aware of the misconduct.

“Despite these facts, none of these employees – the special agent, group supervisor, regional director, and acting assistant regional director ever reported these allegations to the office of professional responsibility or to you in the IG’s office, correct?” Rep. Elijah Cummings asked Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “Correct,” he responded.

The hearing comes on the heels of a report released by the Office of Inspector General on March 26 titled “The Handling of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Allegations by the Department’s Law Enforcement Components.” In it, Inspector General Horowitz outlines the issues he encountered when he began investigating allegations of misconduct back in mid-2013.

For example, one case, which involved a file alleging misconduct by a DEA agent, was withheld until months after the case was closed. In response, DEA employees were interviewed and told investigators “they were given the impression that they were not to discuss the case with the OIG while the case remained open.”

This, and other incidents of heavily redacted or incomplete information, led the OIG to conclude that the already scathing report could not possibly contain all recent misconduct allegations involving sexual harassment or encounters with prostitutes.

“Ultimately, based on a review of information in the OIG Investigations Division databases, we determined that a material number of allegations from both DEA and FBI were not included in the original responses to our request for the information,” it stated.

The Friday before some of his law enforcement administration leadership were to be questioned on these issues, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum reminding all personnel of the department’s prohibition of soliciting prostitutes “regardless of whether the activity is legal or tolerated in a particular jurisdiction, foreign or domestic,” the memo states.

Perhaps the situation was best summed up by Mulvaney who, at a loss for words, said “do you know how insane that sounds to the ordinary person?” when Leonhart gave a vague answer to questions of light punishment for the worst offenders.

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