Dozens of U.S. Secret Service employees improperly accessed a decade-old, unsuccessful job application of the chairman of the House oversight committee who was investigating scandals inside the agency, a new government report said Wednesday.
The report by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general John Roth said that an assistant director suggested leaking embarrassing information to retaliate against Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, which may represent criminal violations under the U.S. Privacy Act.
"It doesn't take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here — by dozens of agents in every part of the agency — was wrong," the report said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Wednesday “those responsible should be held accountable” and that the investigation into the actions by Secret Service employees began back in April.
“I am confident that U.S. Secret Service Director Joe Clancy will take appropriate action to hold accountable those who violated any laws or the policies of this department,” Johnson said. “I also reiterate the apology I issued in April to Chairman Chaffetz. Activities like those described in the report must not, and will not, be tolerated.”
In March, Secret Service employees originally accessed Chaffetz's 2003 application for a Secret Service job 18 minutes after the start of a congressional hearing on the latest scandal involving drunken behavior by senior agents, according to the report.
Some forwarded the information to others, while at least 45 employees viewed the file, the report said.
One week after accessing the information, Assistant Director Ed Lowery then suggested leaking embarrassing information about Chaffetz in retaliation for aggressive investigations by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into a series of agency missteps and scandals, the report said.
On April 2, the information about Chaffetz applying for a job at the Secret Service was then published by The Daily Beast and the Washington Post.
"Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair," Lowery wrote March 31 in an email to fellow Assistant Director Faron Paramore.
Lowery, who is in charge of training, told the inspector general he did not direct anyone to release information about Chaffetz and "believed it would have been inappropriate to do so," the report said. He told Roth the email was "reflecting his stress and his anger."
Lowery declined to comment to the Associated Press though a Secret Service spokesman.
On Wednesday, Chaffetz said in a statement the access and distribution of his personal information was "intimidating."
"It’s scary to think about all the possible dangers in having your personal information exposed," he said. "The work of the committee, however, will continue. I remain undeterred in conducting proper and rigorous oversight."
Chaffetz told the AP Wednesday that Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., would conduct any congressional oversight hearings into the matter.
The inspector general said that under U.S. law and Secret Service rules, employees were required to report such behavior to supervisors.
The report found that 18 supervisors or members of the agency's senior executive service knew or should have known that employees had improperly accessed Chaffetz's job application, but only one person attempted to inform the Secret Service director, Joseph Clancy.
Clancy said in the report he was not aware of what was going on until April 1.
In March, Clancy testified for the third time before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about an incident weeks earlier in which two senior agents were accused of drinking for several hours at a bar before driving a government vehicle into the White House complex, as on-duty personnel were investigating a suspicious item dropped on a roadway near the White House.
Clancy took the helm of the agency on a temporary basis late last year after then-Director Julia Pierson was ousted following the disclosure of two security breaches, including an incident in which a man armed with a knife was able to scale a White House fence and run deep into the executive mansion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.