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Congress berates DEA for longtime sexual misconduct

Democrats and Republicans alike berated leaders of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on Tuesday for the agency's history sexual misconduct -- which was more extensive and egregious than previously reported -- and for the lack of accountability in the wake of revelations about this behavior.

New evidence about the extent of the misconduct shows "a truly breathtaking recklessness by DEA agents who are sworn to protect our country," Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a hearing Tuesday.

Last month, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released a report showing that for years, DEA agents engaged in sexual misconduct such as throwing "sex parties" with prostitutes paid for by Colombian drug cartels. The Oversight Committee asked the DEA to hand over any internal documents related to the misconduct, and it found that this kind of behavior dates back at least to 2001.

"Today I want to know how this egregious misconduct could have continued for so long--for the better part of a decade--without being addressed," said Cummings, who released a white paper summarizing the findings of an internal report from the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, scolded DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart for failing to seriously discipline the DEA agents engaged in "embarrassing" behavior.

"You can sit here and cry a pretty picture about how deplorable it is, but your actions suggest otherwise because there was not the consequence that should have happened," he said.

Leonhart responded that government employee protections make it hard for her to fire anyone. While the FBI is exempt from some civil service protections, the DEA director and other federal directors "are not allowed to invoke ourselves in the disciplinary process," she said.

Chaffetz, however, was incredulous that Leonhart couldn't take more action. He cited a July 2009 incident in which a DEA agent in Bogota, Colombia was accused of physically assaulting a prostitute over a payment dispute. A security guard witnessed this agent throwing a glass and hitting the woman, though the agent claimed the woman harmed herself after having a seizure.

"And you know what the punishment for this person was?" Chaffetz said. "Fourteen days unpaid leave. Go on vacation for two weeks. This person was imposing a national security risk."

He added, "It's an embarrassment you don't fire that person. It's an embarrassment that you don't revoke his security clearance. Why can't you revoke his security clearance? What prohibits you from revoking that person' security clearance?"

Leonhart insisted there is a "mechanism in place" for security reviews.

Rep. Steven Lynch, D-Massachusetts, also took Leonhart to task.

"This is a prostitution ring! They are using taxpayer money to solicit and pay for prostitutes! And you're very disappointed? ... I think we're at different levels here," he said. "I think the problem now is we're protecting these people. That's what's happening in your agency. You're protecting the people who are soliciting prostitutes who had 15 to 20 sex parties."