A majority of United States lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee said Wednesday that they have lost confidence in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief amid allegations that agents attended sex parties with prostitutes in Colombia.
Twenty-two of the committee’s 43 members signed a statement expressing no confidence in DEA head Michele Leonhart.
The lawmakers said Leonhart is “woefully unable to change” what they describe as a “pervasive ‘good old boy’ culture” at the agency. Leonhart also “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 lawmaker said.
The bipartisan statement was signed by 13 House Democrats and nine Republicans, including the GOP chairman, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and the top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Chaffetz said late Tuesday that Leonhart should resign or be fired by President Barack Obama. Leonhart has led the DEA since 2007.
Leonhart told the House oversight panel Tuesday that civil service protections make it difficult for her to fire DEA agents, even those whose actions she finds “appalling.”
As administrator, she is powerless to step in during disciplinary proceedings and in some cases cannot even revoke an agent’s security clearance, Leonhart said.
Lawmakers called that attitude defeatist and said there were ways for Leonhart and other agency leader to crack down on bad behavior.
“She was not pounding on the desk, flailing her arms and making the case that the law has to change,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “She’s had her chance and nothing seemed to improve.”
Excerpts of an internal DEA report released Tuesday indicated that government money was used to pay prostitutes at a farewell party for a high-ranking DEA official in Colombia. DEA agents also rented undercover apartments in Colombia and used them for parties with prostitutes, the report said.
The oversight panel released excerpts of the report at the hearing Tuesday as the panel investigated questionable behavior highlighted in a March report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The Justice Department report recounts allegations that DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes, funded by local drug cartels, in a foreign county. The report does not identify the country where the alleged sex parties occurred, but the DEA report released Tuesday identified it as Colombia.
A 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia involving the Secret Service drew attention to questionable behavior by law enforcement officers while stationed overseas. Those allegations prompted Congress to order a review of other agencies’ practices. DEA agents who were accused of misconduct in the wake of that scandal were recalled from Colombia and put on limited duty.
Ten DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing; seven were issued suspensions ranging from one to 10 days.
Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said his group stands behind Leonhart. The association represents more than 25,000 federal law enforcement officers from 65 agencies, including the DEA.
“She has our full and unwavering support and I have every confidence in her ability to lead the men and women of the DEA,” Adler said.
Adler said he was appalled at the “temper tantrums” displayed by members of Congress at a contentious 3½-hour hearing with Leonhart on Tuesday. Lawmakers shouted at Leonhart and cut her off from speaking several times, Adler said, calling such conduct “completely out of control and unprofessional.”
Adler said Leonhart was merely reciting the law when she told the committee that she could not intervene in disciplinary proceedings, despite her personal feelings.
“Why roast her for something she didn’t create?” Adler asked. “She is doing what she’s supposed to do, which is respect due process.”
A spokesman for the DEA could not be reached for comment Wednesday.