- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2013

The chairman of a key House committee on Thursday demanded that the State Department’s office of inspector general explain passages in internal documents that refer to pressure from department higher-ups to quash investigations into suspected criminal activity — including the solicitation of prostitutes, illegal drug activity and sexual assault — by U.S. diplomatic personnel overseas.

The call, which came in a biting letter to the office’s leadership by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, now may set the stage for congressional hearings on the matter. But it also arrives amid a widening and bitter legal fight between the inspector general’s office and an employee turned whistleblower who brought the documents into public view this week.

No charges have been filed, but one State Department official said that officials within the inspector general’s office believe Aurelia Fedenisn — who previously worked as an investigator — may have inappropriately shared the “internal and preliminary” documents in a manner that violated a nondisclosure “separation agreement” she signed upon retiring from the inspector general’s office in December.

Prior to their appearance in the media this week, the documents already had triggered inspector general investigations into the suspected criminal activity by diplomats, as well as into the claims that earlier probes into such activity were blocked by senior State Department officials under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

With those ongoing investigations at risk of being jeopardized by the release of the internal documents, the inspector general’s office declined to comment Thursday on whether it is considering taking legal action against Mrs. Fedenisn.

The notion, however, that the State Department’s main watchdog agency could file charges against one of its own former watchdogs adds an ugly twist to the scandal, which has rocked Foggy Bottom since the documents possessed by Mrs. Fedenisn were first highlighted in a CBS News on Monday.

The State Department has repeatedly refused to comment on the charges outlined in one of the documents, an internal memo believed to be based on anonymous complaints from rank-and-file diplomatic security agents that arose during a 2012 inspector general review of their department.

Mounting frustration

The situation has caused frustration to mount on Capitol Hill. “I am troubled by reports that senior State Department officials may have prevented the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) from investigating instances of administrative and criminal misconduct within the department,” Mr. Royce wrote in his letter Thursday to Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel.

Attorneys for Mrs. Fedenisn assert that she acted within her legal rights in bringing the charges to light because the separation agreement she signed upon retiring from the inspector general’s office included a federal whistleblower clause.

Damon Mathias, a Dallas-based lawyer representing Mrs. Fedenisn, said his client acted appropriately because federal whistleblower protection status is afforded to former employees seeking to share sensitive materials with members of Congress.

Before internal documents were leaked to CBS News, they were provided to the offices of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, and Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, Mr. Mathias said.

But one State Department official said questions remained over whom Mrs. Fedenisn leaked the documents to first.

“What you have to look at is the timing,” said the official, who asked not to be identified by name. “In order for her to officially become a whistleblower, she has to give the documents to a congressional authority first.

“Giving them to her lawyers in Texas does not make her a whistleblower. It makes her a violator of the separation statement she signed,” the official said. “So, did she give it to the lawyers first, or did she give it to the media first?”

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