GOP, White House clash on Secret Service scandal

AP News
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Posted: Oct 09, 2014 5:16 PM
GOP, White House clash on Secret Service scandal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two years after a prostitution scandal rocked the Secret Service, a Republican congressman renewed allegations Thursday about possible involvement by a White House volunteer and said he smelled efforts to cover it up. White House officials adamantly denied wrongdoing and said there'd been no attempt to keep anything quiet.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who's been investigating the Secret Service as chairman of a House oversight subcommittee, said in an interview that the White House had new questions to answer in light of information he had received from Secret Service whistleblowers, as well as from a report in Thursday's Washington Post.

"The immediate question for the White House is whether or not they're going to share the information they have with the Congress," said the Utah Republican. He said the White House had never explained how officials had been able to clear the volunteer of wrongdoing in its own investigation.

At issue is President Barack Obama's trip to Cartagena, Colombia, in the spring of 2012 for the Summit of the Americas. Before it ended, the trip was overshadowed by news that some Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel setting up security ahead of Obama's arrival had hired local prostitutes and brought them back to their hotel rooms.

Around two dozen people were implicated, and more than a half-dozen Secret Service agents were subsequently fired. Others were disciplined.

Thursday, The Washington Post reported new details of allegations against a White House volunteer, Jonathan Dach, who was helping with advance work on the trip. He was cleared in the White House investigation at the time and went on to get a job at the State Department, where he works as an adviser in its Office of Global Women's Issues.

That review found "no corroborating evidence" to indicate that the volunteer staffer had brought a prostitute to his room, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One when asked about the issue Thursday.

Schultz also rejected claims of a cover-up. He didn't specifically say if the White House would share information with Congress but said, "We do comply with all legitimate oversight requests."

Richard Sauber, a Washington lawyer representing Dach, said the allegations "don't ring true" and are not supported by records about Dach's movements while in Cartagena.

Rep. Chaffetz noted that Dach's father, Leslie Dach, is a major Democratic donor. Schultz said the father's position had no impact on the investigation.

Campaign records show Leslie Dach, a former executive for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., contributed at least $28,000 to Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party in 2008, and an additional $20,000 to help Obama's re-election effort four years later. Leslie Dach is now a senior adviser at the Health and Human Services Department.

In 2012, the White House denied any involvement in the Cartagena incident by White House staff. And when a Department of Homeland Security inspector general investigation some months later turned up a hotel record indicating a White House advance team volunteer on the trip had hosted a prostitute in his hotel room, the White House disputed it and said the hotel log was wrong.

Chaffetz said Thursday that new details he's received from Secret Service whistleblowers, and information reported Thursday in the Post, seemed to provide additional evidence. That included corporate records from Dach's Cartagena hotel suggesting the man had an overnight guest.

Chaffetz also said that officials in the inspector general's office alleged they were discouraged from pursuing questions related to White House involvement and in some cases were put on leave when they did.

"All signs point to a cover-up, but I want to give the White House a chance to explain itself," Chaffetz said. He promised hearings.

The White House dismissed the allegations as thoroughly investigated old news.

"As was reported more than two years ago, the White House conducted an internal review that did not identify any inappropriate behavior on the part of the White House advance team," Schultz said. "And of course there was no White House interference with an (inspector general) investigation."

The Secret Service is in the midst of its own embarrassing self-examination after a string of failures, including an incident last month in which a man with a knife climbed over the White House fence, sprinted to the mansion's front door and made it to the East Room. The Secret Service director, Julia Pierson, resigned last week and the agency is now being run by an acting director pending reviews of what went wrong.

Unlike some of the earlier incidents, where Republicans and Democrats joined together to criticize the Secret Service, the Cartagena case has the potential to provoke partisan clashes on Capitol Hill and create political problems for Obama — with congressional elections less than a month away.

Another potential headache for the White House involves the role of Kathy Ruemmler, the former White House counsel and a leading contender to be Obama's next attorney general.

Schultz said Ruemmler conducted the Cartagena review in a "careful, thorough way."

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Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Alicia Caldwell, Jack Gillum and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.