Congress Says It Will Not Tolerate 'Agents Gone Wild'
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET
On Wednesday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and fellow committee members released a statement expressing "no confidence" in DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.
"From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position," the statement reads. "Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency." The statement is signed by 22 members.
Original post follows:
Members of Congress have a message for federal law enforcement: "We will not tolerate further episodes of 'agents gone wild.'"
That's the word from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who holds a hearing Wednesday afternoon on sexual misconduct and security lapses by employees at the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service.
Goodlatte wants answers not only about federal agents' wrongdoing, but also on systemwide breakdowns by the agencies, which allegedly failed to report and punish many of the allegations with sufficient vigor.
The hearing follows weeks of lurid headlines about employee misconduct at the nation's top law enforcement agencies.
The Secret Service has come under scrutiny for an episode of alleged sexual assault, of harassment of a female worker by a senior manager and the questionable behavior of two supervisors who drove near an active investigation of a suspicious package after a retirement party. John Roth, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, is investigating those incidents and is scheduled to testify to Congress on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, this week, more new details came to light about DEA participation at overseas "sex parties" financed by drug cartels and U.S. taxpayer funds. The parties date back earlier than previously believed, to 2001, according to a report released by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and other members of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform.
"I'm very concerned about the public's respect for law enforcement officers and the safety of those they are designed to protect," Goodlatte told NPR. "This is a very important issue to me and one I intend to follow closely."
Also testifying Wednesday will be Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who reported last month that employees at the DEA and other agencies have engaged in "high-risk sexual behavior" that exposes them to blackmail or extortion attempts. His report mentions a DEA inspector deciding to close a case by saying, "If you look a man in the eye and he says no, then the answer is no — to do more is above my pay grade."
Goodlatte said, among other things, the Judiciary Committee will consider whether agencies need greater authority to investigate themselves and more leeway in doling out punishments for employee misconduct.
Goodlatte said the vast majority of agents are "outstanding" performers. But, he added: "Simply taking their word for something given the track record that we've seen here in recent weeks is concerning to me and should not be the end of that kind of investigation."
DEA Deputy Chief Inspector Herman "Chuck" Whaley, a career federal law enforcement officer, will tell lawmakers he's "disgusted by the behavior described in these cases" and "disappointed" by the lax punishment the employees faced, resulting in unpaid suspensions of a few days or more, according to a copy of his written testimony.
Mark Hughes, the chief integrity officer at the Secret Service, will tell lawmakers "the successes of the many have recently been overshadowed by the unacceptable failures of a few," his written testimony says.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.