- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Top leaders at the U.S. Secret Service took agents supposed to be guarding the White House and instead sent them to baby-sit a neighborhood dispute involving an assistant to the agency’s director, investigators said Wednesday in a report that marks the latest black eye for the elite unit that protects the president.

Agents from the Secret Service “Prowler” team, which patrols the area near the White House, were sent to southern Maryland, a 50-minute drive away, where they sat outside of the employee’s home on what they called “welfare checks,” the Homeland Security inspector general said. The incident happened over five days in July 2011.

“These agents, who were there to protect the president and the White House, were improperly diverted for an impermissible purpose. This constituted a serious lapse in judgment,” said Inspector General John Roth. “The Secret Service’s mission is to protect the president of the United States, and not to involve itself in an employee’s purely private dispute best handled by the local police.”

President Obama was at the White House on two of the days the agents were diverted. Secret Service agents told investigators they didn’t believe their actions compromised the security of the president or the White House.

But investigators said they couldn’t find any good reason to divert the agents, and said given the employee — who has been identified in press accounts as Lisa Chopey — was an aide to then-Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, it gave the appearance of special treatment.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversees the Secret Service, said in a statement that he’s asked acting Director Joe Clancy to determine whether anyone should be punished and to “report back to me.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said the report was the latest problem for an agency reeling from other failures, including allowing an intruder to gain access to the White House last month, and agents bringing prostitutes back to their hotel while detailed in Colombia ahead of a presidential trip in 2012.

“It is appalling that the leadership of the Secret Service would direct agents to leave their patrol stations on the Ellipse during the Independence Day holiday weekend to participate in activities that were outside their scope of duties while the president was at the White House,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

According to the internal investigation, Ms. Chopey had an altercation with her neighbor, and the neighbor was arrested after harassing Ms. Chopey and assaulting her father, resulting in the loss of several of the father’s teeth.

Ms. Chopey obtained a court order instructing the neighbor to stay away, and the chain of events eventually made its way to then-Deputy Director Keith Prewitt, who has since retired, and A.T. Smith, then the assistant director for investigations and current deputy director.

The operation, referred to as “operation moonlight” or “operation moonshine,” started on July 1, 2011, and consisted of two agents driving to Ms. Chopey’s home in rural Maryland and parking outside. Agents said they remained for between 15 minutes and two hours.

The agency leaders defended their decision.

“Prewitt said he would make the same decision again, stating, ‘You look after your people,’ ” Mr. Roth wrote in his report, which he submitted to Mr. Johnson.

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