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.
Neither Mr. Sandweg, Mr. Kroloff nor Ms. Napolitano's office responded to requests for comment. Mr. Sullivan declined to comment.
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."
In August last year, the Secret Service's office of professional responsibility — which reports to the deputy director of the service — issued the first of two reports on the Cartagena scandal.
The inspector general praised it for its thoroughness. A month later, Ms. Napolitano received from the inspector general a "non-public report of investigation" with information that "was intentionally changed and withheld," according to the letter from Mr. Johnson and Ms. McCaskill.
"Allegations [from whistleblowers] include that the public report did not contain relevant and damaging information contained in the non-public report," the senators wrote. The letter did not cite any specific examples of what information was withheld.
Former congressional investigators said that, based on their experience, they would expect Mr. Sandweg, as Ms. Napolitano's acting general counsel at the time, and Mr. Kroloff, as her chief of staff, to have had access to the non-public report. It remains to be seen how widely the non-public report was disseminated.
The office of personal responsibility filed a second report Dec. 27 as the inspector general was finalizing his report, which was designed in part to evaluate the Secret Service's internal investigation. The office of personal responsibility's second report "did not alter our findings or conclusions," the inspector general wrote.
Titled "Adequacy of [Secret Services'] Internal Investigation of Alleged Misconduct in Cartagena," the inspector general report, released in January, "incorporated the formal comments from the [Secret Service]" and had "no recommendations," said a memo from Mr. Edwards to Mr. Sullivan.
In February, shortly after the inspector released his final report, Mr. Sullivan retired from a 30-year career with the Secret Service.
On Feb. 19, he, Mr. Kroloff and Dennis K. Burke, who served as Ms. Napolitano's chief of staff when she was governor of Arizona and as her senior adviser at Homeland Security, filed incorporation papers in Arizona for the Global Security and Intelligence Studies (GSIS) program.
It is unclear when plans for that program were launched. Napolitano allies David Aguilar, former deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also are partners in GSIS.
Mr. Reinsdorf told the Center for Investigative Reporting in March that the GSIS partners "have known each other a long time" and that the program "is about relationships and friendships and the belief they have in each other."
Ms. Napolitano has referred to Mr. Kroloff, who also was her deputy chief of staff when she was governor and her campaign adviser in 2002 and 2006, as "a trusted adviser and good friend."
Mr. Kroloff and Mr. Sandweg are close. They met in 2000 at Arizona State College of Law, eventually bought adjacent houses and worked together on Ms. Napolitano's 2006 campaign, according to the law school's alumni newsletter. After Mr. Kroloff joined Ms. Napolitano's Homeland Security staff, he brought aboard Mr. Sandweg, the newsletter reported.
"Probably, from 2003 to 2013, there wasn't a day in my life that I wasn't around him," Mr. Kroloff said of Mr. Sandweg.
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