WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House declined to give a vote of confidence Thursday to the embattled head of the Drug Enforcement Administration amid allegations that agents attended sex parties with prostitutes while stationed overseas.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama is concerned about "troubling details" in a recent report by the Justice Department's inspector general. The report recounts allegations that DEA agents attended the parties, paid for by local drug cartels, in a foreign country later identified as Colombia.
Earnest said Obama has "very high expectations" for everyone who serves in his administration, "about their conduct and about keeping the public's trust."
Obama supports steps the Justice Department has taken to address concerns raised by the inspector general's report and by a separate, internal report the DEA released this week, Earnest said.
Earnest was asked repeatedly whether Obama still has faith in DEA chief Michele Leonhart, but declined to answer directly.
"Well, again, at this point, we do have concerns about what's been reported by the office of inspector general ... and we do believe it's important for the Department of Justice to do as they're doing, following through on some reforms to address those concerns," he said.
A majority of lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee said Wednesday they have lost confidence in Leonhart, who has led the DEA since 2007.
A statement signed by 22 of the committee's 43 members said Leonhart is "woefully unable to change" what they describe as a "pervasive 'good old boy' culture" at the agency.
The panel's chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Leonhart should step down or be fired. He and other lawmakers said they were stunned that no one had been fired in the wake of the sex-party allegations.
Leonhart told the Oversight panel at a contentious, 3 ½-hour hearing 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.
A spokesman for the DEA declined to comment Thursday.
Matthew Daly can be reached at: http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC