- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Republican senator is raising questions about whether there was “improper contact” between the former general counsel and the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security in its review of the Secret Service’s 2012 prostitution scandal.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on contracting oversight, said at a hearing last week that “troubling aspects” of the review conducted by Homeland Security’s acting Inspector General Charles Edwards have led to questions about the IG’s independence.

Government sources familiar with a bipartisan investigation of Mr. Edwards conducted by Mr. Johnson and Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat and chairwoman of the subcommittee, say that Ms. McCaskill is steering clear of the matter, and that the Obama administration refuses to cooperate with the probe.

Mr. Johnson’s remarks came during a confirmation hearing for a nominee to replace John Sandweg, former general counsel at Homeland Security and a close ally of former Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, who appointed Mr. Sandweg as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement this summer.

“I’m concerned because I think we’ve seen what I would believe is improper contact between the inspector general and the general counsel’s office of Homeland Security,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’m trying to figure out what that wall of separation really ought to be to maintain the independence of the inspector general.”

Calls to Mr. Sandweg were referred to Homeland Security. The Secret Service referred questions to Mr. Edwards‘ office. Mr. Edwards has dismissed the idea that political pressure affected his work and his office declined to comment Wednesday.

SEE ALSO: Foxes in the henhouse: Napolitano gurus probed for meddling in Secret Service sex scandal

Government sources familiar with the investigation say a May 16 letter from the subcommittee to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson requesting internal investigative reports of the misconduct in Cartagena has yielded no response.

Earlier this month, The Washington Times reported that the subcommittee is investigating whether Ms. Napolitano’s close allies — including Mr. Sandweg — pushed Mr. Edwards to tread lightly in his review of the Secret Service’s internal probe of its own scandal.

Those concerns were elevated when Mr. Sandweg’s closest friend and political ally, Noah Kroloff, former chief of staff at Homeland Security, formed a private consulting firm with former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan shortly after the 2012 prostitution scandal subsided.

Mr. Kroloff and Mr. Sullivan have not responded to requests for comment.

Lack of cooperation from the inspector general’s office has made Mr. Johnson “suspicious,” he said. “When I’m not getting the answers, that’s when you start really digging and I really don’t want to go down those roads quite honestly.”

In October 2012, the Wisconsin Republican wrote to Mr. Sullivan, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Ms. Napolitano concerning how they were investigating reports that Secret Service agents took prostitutes to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, in advance of the Summit of Americas attended by President Obama.

Those requests met a stone wall, according to government sources familiar with the probe. Administration officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In June, Mr. Johnson and Ms. McCaskill wrote to Mr. Edwards to inform him of whistleblower accusations that he was “susceptible to political pressure” in issuing a favorable investigative report on the Secret Service, and that his investigators “changed and withheld” information damaging to the service.

Government sources say inconsistencies between that report and an unpublished report are particularly troubling because Mr. Edwards has not disclosed attachments that might explain discrepancies. Requests for communications between Mr. Edwards and Mr. Sandweg also have been ignored, the sources said.

“As a business person I would’ve gotten to bottom of this [matter] in a week,” Mr. Johnson, a former plastics manufacturer, said last week. “It’s been a year and a half and we still have all kinds of questions.”

Sources familiar with the subcommittee probe of Mr. Edwards said the production of a transparent, hard-hitting report is unlikely, at least any time soon.

As is the the notion that Sen. McCaskill shares Sen. Johnson’s commitment to pursuing the investigation.

Visited by The Times in August, a spokesman for Sen. McCaskill dismissed questions on its status by saying her office “has not been very involved.” When asked why a bipartisan subcommittee office would concede lack of involvement with a probe of their own party’s appointee, the spokesperson replied in an email that the staff is “working hard on the investigation, in conjunction with Senator Johnson’s subcommittee staff, and that their work is still ongoing.”

Sen. McCaskill’s office did not respond to email inquiries from The Times this week.

Sen. Johnson’s office said the investigation is ongoing.

Analysts say the work of an inspector general — in particular an acting IG — must be free of influence.

Scott Amey, general counsel of the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight said, “[Homeland Security] isn’t working with a permanent inspector general, and there are concerns about whether acting [inspectors general] are as diligent in their investigations when they are seeking that appointment. Equally troubling are any attempts by federal officials to delay or alter federal investigations. It is difficult to remove politics from such situations, but it has to be done to ensure integrity in government activities.”

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