State Dept. Pushes Back on Report of Prostitutes, Cover-ups
Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The State Department is strongly denying allegations from a former department investigator who claimed top officials tried to halt or delay several potentially damaging investigations.
Aurelia Fedenisn, the whistle-blowing former investigator, also claimed that when the department’s Office of Inspector General tried to expose the interference in a report, that language was scrubbed.
A senior State Department official offered a point-by-point pushback in response to an internal Office of Inspector General memo dated Oct. 23, 2012, obtained by ABC News, that detailed eight investigations by the investigative arm of the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The memo alleged that, in those cases, senior officials interfered with the investigations.
The cases, according to the memo, included allegations that an ambassador solicited prostitutes in a park near a U.S. embassy, that several members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail hired prostitutes while on official travel, and that a drug ring was running near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
In each of those cases, the memo alleged, more senior officials, including, in some cases, individuals close to Clinton, called off the investigations.
But the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, insisted that the investigations were not called off for political reasons. Instead, the official claimed, full investigations were done and in many cases there was insufficient evidence to warrant prosecutions or in-house discipline.
A Nov. 20, 2012 draft of the inspector general’s report, also obtained by ABC News, included many of the details included in the Oct. 23 memo, as well as attempts to block the investigations.
A Dec. 4, 2012 draft, however, watered down the language, focusing more on the need for investigative independence.
By the time the final report was issued in February, all of the details were removed, reduced to a line that the investigative arm of diplomatic security “does not have that independence.”
But again, the senior State Department official claimed the language was removed because, when asked to provide evidence to back up those claims, the Office of Inspector General was unable to do so.
“Tell us when and show us how,” the official recalled saying. “Show me.”
An official from the State Department Office of Inspector General offered a similar account, telling ABC News that the language was removed from the final report because there was not enough evidence to prove any wrongdoing.
The State Department also denied any wrongdoing publicly.
“We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
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Psaki said that the State Department has responded to recommendations made in the Inspector General’s report, but took issue with the report’s assertion that senior State Department management had any undue influence on investigations.
“I can say broadly that the notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconducts in a case, in any case, is preposterous,” she said. “And we’ve put individuals behind bars for criminal behavior. There is record of that.”
“Ambassadors would be no exception,” she added.
Psaki said the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has been working with the Office of Inspector General to have an additional review of the cases by outside, experienced law enforcement officers who will then assess the department’s current investigation procedures.
The Oct. 23, 2012 memo, which was first reported by CBS News, alleged that the ambassador at the overseas embassy “ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors” from prostitutes.
The memo claimed that when Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy learned of plans to investigate the ambassador, he ordered the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to “cease the investigation and have the agent return to Washington.”
The senior State Department official confirmed to ABC News that the ambassador was scolded for bad judgment — for example, walking in a park known for sexual trysts — but insisted there was no evidence of actual wrongdoing.
As for the investigation, the official said, there was no probable cause for the surveillance the agent advocated, and the civil rights of the ambassador needed to be protected.
The ambassador issued a statement on Tuesday denying any wrongdoing, calling the allegations “devastating.”
“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press,” said the statement. “I live on a beautiful park… that you walk through to get to many locations and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”
Kennedy also issued a statement denying that he had impeded the investigation.
“It is my responsibility to make sure the department and all of our employees — no matter their rank — are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation,” Kennedy said.
The Oct. 23, 2012 memo also claimed that several members of Secretary Clinton’s personal security detail solicited prostitutes during official trips to Russia and Colombia. The alleged events preceded another scandal involving Secret Service officers and prostitutes in Colombia.
The agents confessed, according to the memo, but were punished with only a one-day suspension and then reassigned to other duties.
The memo said the investigating agent concluded that solicitation of prostitutes was an “endemic” problem in diplomatic security. But again, according to the memo, an investigation was called off. A more senior agent intervened to “shut down” the investigation.
The senior official told ABC News that, while a handful of agents have been disciplined with suspensions, solicitation of prostitutes is not an endemic problem at the State Department or grounds for dismissal.
Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, also took issue with the allegation that the use of prostitutes by Clinton’s security detail was “endemic.” She noted that last year, Secretary Clinton’s detail traveled to 69 countries with more than 10,000-person nights spent in hotels. While she would not speak to a few individual cases, she said the use of prostitutes was “hardly endemic.”
“Any case we would take seriously and we would investigate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Psaki said.
The memo alleged that Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, personally intervened to protect Brett McGurk, who had been nominated to be ambassador to Iraq but who had also been found to have had an improper relationship with a reporter who eventually became his wife.
Investigators were never able to interview McGurk, the memo claimed, “allegedly because Cheryl Mills from the secretary’s office interceded.”
A senior State Department official told reporters that McGurk actually was interviewed twice during the course of the investigation.
The findings, which were apparently based on interviews with investigating agents, apparently led the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, which by law is to be independent from the department it investigates, to write in the Nov. 20 draft of its report that, “in some cases superiors in DS and in senior levels of the department have prejudiced the commencement, course, and outcome” of investigations.
The draft report went on to detail specifics of the cases mentioned in the Oct. 23 memo, pointing the finger at “senior ’7th floor’ Department officials” who ordered the investigations cease. The 7th floor of the State Department’s main building is where the secretary of state and other top officials have their offices.
“Reportedly, such top-level intervention is rare, but it has taken place once or twice a year,” the draft said.
The final report in February called for a “firewall” to protect investigators from interference.
The State Department insisted such a measure was not needed.
“We’ve disputed the notion of the issue of the firewall with the OIG office. We would never condone this,” Psaki said, referring to the Office of Inspector General.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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