Secret Service official wanted to embarrass congressman

Last Updated Sep 30, 2015 6:28 PM EDT

The Homeland Security inspector general revealed in a new report that a number of Secret Service employees accessed an old employment file pertaining to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in violation of the law.

Chaffetz, who chairs the committee charged with government oversight and reform, has been leading the charge to investigate a series of Secret Service scandals involving drunk driving, foreign prostitutes, and failures to protect the White House from trespassers.

Assistant Secret Service Director Edward Lowery, according to the report, emailed another Secret Service director on Mar. 31, that suggested, "Some information that he [Chaffetz] might find embarrassing needs to get out," in reference to the information in Chaffetz's employment file.

DHS began investigating reports about his job rejection in April. Lowery denied to investigators that he directed anyone to release the information and said his email just reflected "his stress and his anger."

And a senior official in the Secret Service expressed his hope that someone would publicize the fact that Chaffetz had applied to and was subsequently rejected for a job at the Secret Service in 2003.

Chaffetz's file was accessed on approximately 60 occasions by Secret Service employees, the report said.

"We have concluded that a vast majority of those who had accessed the information did so in violation of the Privacy Act, as well as Secret Service and DHS policy. Additionally, we identified one individual who acknowledged disclosing information protected by the Privacy Act to an outside source," the report read.

The inspector general was unable to identify who might have shared the information with third parties because so many individuals accessed Chaffetz's file.

In an interview with CBS News, Chaffetz said, "This should never happened to me, it shouldn't happen to anybody else. I worry that if they did this to me they might be doing it somebody else."

"The more I learn about the Secret Service the more I recognize there is a deep-seated cultural problem," he said.

In a statement, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said he was confident that Secret Service Director Joe Clancy would take appropriate action.

"I also reiterate the apology I issued in April to Chairman Chaffetz. Activities like those described in the report must not, and will not, be tolerated," he said.

In his own statement, Clancy said he takes the misconduct seriously and promised to hold people accountable.

"On behalf of the men and women of the United States Secret Service, I again apologize to Representative Chaffetz for this wholly avoidable and embarrassing misconduct. Additionally, I will continue to review policies and practices to address employee misconduct and demand the highest level of integrity of all our employees," he said.

A senior Secret Service agent, whose name was redacted from the report, first searched for Chaffetz's name in the database just 18 minutes after the start of a hearing regarding allegations that two agents drove a vehicle onto White House grounds while under the influence of alcohol, hitting a barrier where other agents were investigating a suspicious package.

The agent "had no official need to query Chairman Chaffetz' name, because this information was not needed" to do his job, the report found. It also noted that the agent would have had to bypass a screen warning him the information he was accessing was for official use only.

That agent notified a colleague in the Dallas Field Office shortly afterward, and both agents proceeded to notify other colleagues. By the end of the day, seven people had accessed Chaffetz' file, only one of which might have had an official reason to do so. All told, 45 people across the country and abroad accessed it 60 times, and the inspector general said just four people who did so might have had a legitimate reason. Many employees told the inspector general they did not believe their actions were inappropriate, although others said they realized at the time it was a mistake and self-reported their actions to supervisors.

Later, two news outlets - The Daily Beast and The Washington Post - published the fact that Chaffetz had been rejected for a job, although the inspector general did not identify who leaked them the information.

In addition to the agents who shared the information, the report said 18 supervisors either knew or should have known the information was being accessed, but just one attempted to report the information up the chain or try to stop it.

"This episode reflects an obvious lack of care on the part of Secret Service personnel as to the sensitivity of the information entrusted to them. It also reflects a failure by the Secret Service management and leadership to understand the potential risk to the agency as events unfolded and react to and prevent or mitigate the damage caused by their workforce's actions," the report concluded. "It doesn't take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here - by dozens of agents in every part of the agency - was simply wrong. The agents should have known better."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.