- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The embattled administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, stepped down Tuesday afternoon amid a sexual misconduct scandal among her agents, the Justice Department said.

“Michele Leonhart, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, informed me today of her decision to retire. She will depart the agency in mid-May,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder said in a statement.

Ms. Leonhart has been heavily scrutinized since news broke last month that some DEA agents had engaged in prostitution parties sponsored by Colombian drug cartels. An internal agency report, made public by Congress this month, showed the federal agency merely gave its agents a slap on the wrist for the parties and none were fired.

The reports surfaced after an inspector general report was released earlier this year charging that DEA agents attended these sex parties between 2009 to 2012.

Mr. Holder was quick to tout Ms. Leonhart’s achievements in a statement released just hours after reports began circulating that she intended to resign from her position.

“Over the past decade, under her leadership, there have been innumerable instances of the DEA dismantling the most violent and most significant drug trafficking organizations and holding accountable the largest drug kingpins around the world,” he said.

But when White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked earlier Tuesday whether President Obama still has confidence in her, he wouldn’t answer the question.

Ms. Leonhart had canceled an appearance to receive an award Tuesday from sponsors of the Border Security Expo, a trade show in Phoenix for government contractors.

At the Border Security Expo, Robert Bonner, a former DEA administrator and Customs and Border Protection commissioner, told the audience Ms. Leonhart was being unfairly blamed for agents’ misconduct. He said last week’s House hearing presented a “jumbled and distorted” picture of the agency, much of it untrue.

“Sadly, what we’re witnessing in Washington is ‘gotcha politics’ in action,” he said, adding that Ms. Leonhart lacked authority to fire agents with civil service protections and shouldn’t be blamed for punishments that were perceived as being too light.

The downfall of the embattled administrator attracted the attention of former agents who have long complained about a lack of oversight among the federal law enforcement community.

Michael Levine, a former Department of Justice supervisor who spent years working for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Professional Responsibility said he was “astounded” by how long lawmakers have turned a blind eye to what he describes as “fraternity boys with guns.”

Oversight and accountability among covert agents has “just absolutely deteriorated,” he said.

Last week, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee called for Ms. Leonhart to step down following a grueling hearing where she endured attack after attack on her inability to rein in what lawmakers are describing as “agents gone wild.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said Ms. Leonhart had allowed problems at the agency to fester for more than a decade.

“It’s time for her to go,” he said. “I don’t have confidence in her, nor does the majority of the committee.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Chaffetz and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, applauded Ms. Leonhart’s retirement, which they described as “appropriate.”

“With the opportunity now for fresh leadership, we are hopeful that the DEA can restore itself to an agency of distinction and excellence,” the duo said in a joint statement. “The IG’s report exposed the bad behavior that was allowed to fester for more than a decade, and our Committee’s hearing shined a spotlight on the lack of accountability for these abuses. This process is strong evidence of how proper and bipartisan oversight can lead to a better functioning government for the citizens it serves.”

Ms. Leonhart also evoked the ire and lost the confidence of other powerful lawmakers, like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who said in a Tuesday statement that the agency’s “pattern of protecting its own agents at the expense of the transparency and justice that the American people deserve” must come to an end.

The committee intends to continue its investigation of misconduct among agents — sans Ms. Leonhart’s input — and do “whatever it takes” to see that those problems are addressed, the Virginia Republican said.

“Leadership at the DEA must crack down on bad behavior so that trust is rebuilt with the American people,” Mr. Goodlatte said.

But Mr. Levine expressed doubt that either Congress or the nation’s federal agencies can achieve that goal. DEA agents have become far too accustomed hiding their ineptitude under the umbrella of limited oversight and are unlikely to change their ways, Mr. Levine said.

“Getting rid of Leonhart is nothing,” he said. “It means nothing. It’s going to change nothing. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is.”

⦁ This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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