WASHINGTON – With the Secret Service still smarting from its 2012 prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, another federal law agency is in hot water over an even more salacious sex scandal - in the same country.
The Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michelle Leonhart, Tuesday faced a grueling three-hour inquisition from the House Oversight Committee over an Inspector General's report that found DEA agents in Bogota, Colombia engaged in "sex parties" with prostitutes and that the parties were paid for by the very drug cartels the DEA was sent to fight.
"This behavior is not acceptable," Leonhart said in her opening statement. "It is my hope that the additional training and guidance we have provided to all personnel - particularly those stationed overseas - will prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”
Her contrition did little to calm members of either party, who were incensed - not only at the infraction itself - but also at the weak discipline meted out to the still unnamed participants - a maximum of a two-week suspension.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., asked Leonhart, "Do you have any idea how absurd all of that sounds to an ordinary human being?" Leonhart repeatedly explained that a maze of civil service system protections for government workers prevents her from firing federal employees.
A furious Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., accused Leonhart of looking the other way.
"That's what's happening in your agency! You're protecting the people who solicited prostitutes who had 15 to 20 sex parties, went through this whole operation, and used taxpayer money to do it."
The Department of Justice Inspector General's report, released last month, found that corrupt local police officers in Bogota "arranged” the "sex parties" with prostitutes funded by the local drug cartels for the DEA agents at their government-leased quarters, over a period of several years.
The report found that "although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds."
It also claimed that local police protected the DEA agents’ property, including weapons, computers and smart phones, while the parties were ongoing. None of the devices was believed to have been compromised.
Under tough questioning from Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Leonhart also denied knowing whether any of the prostitutes were underage. "I don't know that," she said.
The response prompted a frustrated Gowdy to shout back, "You have to work with agents over whom you can't discipline and have no control. And you have no control over their security clearance. What the hell do you get to do?”
The report said the behavior exposed agents to possible coercion, extortion, and blackmail.
Lynch told Leonhart he wants the unnamed agents involved to be "named and shamed." And another, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked her, “Do you think you’re the right person for this job?