Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday rejected claims that the State Department has not offered assistance to the widow of a man allegedly shot down by drug lords while on a jet ski trip on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We are helping," Clinton said in an interview. "The United States government is supporting local law enforcement, supporting the authorities on the border, doing everything that we know to do to try to assist in helping to find the body and helping to find the perpetrators."
She called the killing a "terrible tragedy" and said, "We are sickened by it."
Clinton's remarks on ABC's "Good Morning America" follow charges that her department has turned away from Tiffany Hartley, whose husband David Hartley was allegedly killed during a trip to the border-straddling Falcon Lake.
U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, told FoxNews.com that Tiffany Hartley has not received help from the U.S. Consulate in Mexico to file a complaint against members of the Zeta drug cartel suspected of shooting her husband several weeks ago.
"There seems to be inefficiency on this issue. She shouldn't have to be filing charges" on her own, Poe said, noting that the Mexican authorities were slow to help Hartley, in part because they said she made no official complaint to the proper authorities.
The State Department has also been "blissfully silent" on efforts to convince the Mexican authorities to let U.S. investigators help search for Hartley's body, Poe told FoxNews.com. The department must convince Mexican officials to let the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigators help conduct the search for Hartley's body and for the culprits, he said.
Poe sent a letter Oct. 4 to Clinton saying helping Hartley recover her husband's body is "the least" the State Department can do.
"We followed up yesterday to see when they were going to respond and they could not respond to our response," Poe said, adding that he hopes to have a reply soon from Clinton, who is traveling abroad right now.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made similar claims about the State Department's response, or lack thereof.
But Clinton, granting the interview Thursday from Brussels, said she hopes the administration can help recover the body.
"I hope that we can. I hope that we can. I mean, the beheaded body of the brave Mexican investigator that just showed up shows what we're dealing with," she said, referring to the Mexican officer in the case who was killed. "The absolute barbarity that we're seeing by criminals and terrorists in the world today should shock the conscience and require a concerted effort to defeat these violent, terrible actors that upset lives from Mexico to Africa to Afghanistan and beyond. I see this as one struggle where we have to, as people of conscience standing together, work very hard to defeat these extreme criminals and these extreme terrorists."
As she often does when discussing Mexican drug cartel violence, she suggested the United States shared culpability by providing the weapons and the demand for drugs.
"We have to do more," she said. "But to be fair, we also have to stop the huge demand for drugs that fuels these drug wars and this terrible violence, and we have to stop the constant flow of arms. It's terribly distressing to me and to people along the border and to our Mexican friends that so many of these drug killers are armed with weapons that come from the United States. ... But that doesn't make up for the fact that going out on a beautiful afternoon to go across a lake that has been used by Mexicans and Americans peacefully for so many years would result in this horrible crime. We have to do even more to try to stem this violence."
The nation's diplomatic headquarters has warned Americans not to go to trouble spots in Mexico where drug traffickers control the country. Tamaulipas, where the Hartleys were visiting on the day of David Hartley's murder, is one of those areas.
Zapata County Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez, who was first to hear Hartley's account, said he has warned Hartley not to return to Mexico to give a statement to authorities there.
"Tiffany has given her official statement at the Mexican Consulate in Texas. She was assured by the government officials of Mexico and the consulate that her statement would go to any agency in Mexico that would request a copy of it," Gonzalez told Fox News, adding that the statement is "available to all Mexican agencies that may request them. I'd like to know what agency in Mexico is conducting the investigation of Mr. Hartley's murder because it was a murder case."
Poe said he doesn't think any Americans should be going to Mexico right now, and compared the danger to standing on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He noted that the U.S. basketball teams playing in a pre-season game in Mexico City this week were forced to stay in their hotel and "couldn't go anywhere except with armed guards."
"Portions of the Texas-Mexico border are in operational control of the drug cartels," Poe said. "I would tell Americans not to go to Mexico. ... the rule of law is breaking down."
Poe said that some Mexican officials are corrupt, but others, including Rolando Flores Villegas, the police officer who took up Hartley's search and was found beheaded on Tuesday, are honest Mexican authorities overwhelmed by a drug war that has taken the lives of dozens of Americans and thousands of Mexicans.
"I'm sure they're intimidated, that's obvious," he said. "If they don't work for the drug cartels, the drug cartels go after them and use their bodies as intimidation."
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who is Hartley's congressional representative, expressed his "deepest sympathies" to the Flores family, noting that the police officer was killed for conducting the murder investigation.
"Commandante Flores had a reputation for cooperation and camaraderie with his American counterparts and he will sorely be missed. Commandante Flores and many of his peers had continued to search for David Hartley in the face of grave threats and imminent danger. This tragic incident demonstrates the continued efforts of the Mexican law enforcement community to help us in America solve the Hartley case," Cuellar said.
Meanwhile, Poe said the United States should reconsider financial aid to Mexico, which received $1 billion for the Merida Initiative aimed at helping law enforcement investigations but came with no strings attached.
"I wouldn't be surprised if part of that money went to drug cartels," he said, adding that he has no knowledge of any accounting or audit of the cash assistance.
"Money always talks and we should limit and control any money that we send to Mexico," Poe said.
But Cuellar said the Merida Initiative, for which he is a vocal proponent, provides "ample support for our international partners in border security."