A Senate panel is investigating whether former Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano’s close allies pushed the department’s inspector general to tread lightly in its investigation of the prostitution scandal involving the U.S. Secret Service.
Government sources familiar with the probe say Senate investigators are looking into John Sandweg, the secretary’s former general counsel whom she recently promoted to acting chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and her former chief of staff, Noah Kroloff, who, shortly after the 2012 prostitution scandal subsided, formed a private consulting firm with Mark Sullivan, who retired in March as head of the Secret Service.
The sources say the Senate panel received information that suggests Mr. Sandweg pressured Homeland Security Inspector General Charles Edwards to slow-walk his final report until after the November presidential election.
The investigation was spurred by whistleblower accusations that Mr. Edwards was “susceptible to political pressure” in issuing a favorable investigative report on the Secret Service, according to a June 27 letter to him from the panel, and that his investigators “changed and withheld” information that would have been damaging to the service.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on contracting oversight, and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the panel’s ranking Republican, initiated the probe in May after receiving whistleblower complaints.
They also are looking into accusations that Mr. Edwards “shared confidential whistleblower information with agency officials” and “used administrative leave” to penalize employees who questioned his actions, the letter states.
Mr. Edwards has denied any wrongdoing, dismissed the idea that political pressure affected his work and expressed concern that the matter could negatively influence his oversight work.
The underlying scandal surfaced in April 2012, when Secret Service agents took prostitutes to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, in advance of the Summit of Americas attended by President Obama. At least nine of the agents eventually were fired or left the Secret Service as a result of the scandal.
Ms. Napolitano told Congress that her inspector general would use “the investigatory resources of the Secret Service” to review the matter and that she also expected him to conduct a complete investigation.
The completeness of the inspector general’s investigation is in question, government sources said, raising concerns about his independence and the integrity of the Secret Service’s internal probe, on which he relied.
Analysts say such concerns could damage the public’s confidence in governmental oversight.
“Part of our system of liberty is creating mechanisms to sort out wrongdoing,” said James Carafano, senior defense and homeland security fellow with the Heritage Foundation. “This is the canary in the mine shaft, and if investigators become politically susceptible, the system is failing. It’s like judges making up their own laws.”
A former congressional staffer familiar with the Cartagena investigation added that the process, to the degree the inspector general relied on the Secret Service’s internal findings, was “awkwardly constructed,” and that any give-and-take needs to be free of “influence or watering-down.”