DEA Chief to Resign Amid Sex Party Scandal
The White House and lawmakers have declined to publicly express support for the 35-year DEA veteran.
The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency is expected to resign soon, according to multiple media reports.
DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart has worked at the agency in various capacities for 35 years, but the recent firestorm created by the revelation that DEA agents were engaging with cartel-funded prostitutes proved too explosive to overcome. Leonhart has served as administrator for five years.
The outgoing DEA chief was eviscerated at a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing last week, when lawmakers said Leonhart did not have control of the organization, did not inflict severe enough punishment on the malfeasant agents and obstructed a Justice Department investigation. Leonhart said she was statutorily removed from the disciplinary process, but committee members were not appeased.
Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Leonhart did not go far enough to create an environment in which firing the employees would have been easier.
“You may cry in the mirror but you were in a position to do it and you didn’t,” Chaffetz said. “It’s an embarrassment you don’t fire that person. It’s an embarrassment you don’t revoke that person’s security clearance.”
After the hearing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if President Obama still had confidence in Leonhart, but Earnest demurred.
“The president has very high expectations for everybody who serves in his administration about their conduct and about keeping the public’s trust,” Earnest said. Asked if Leonhart failed to live up to those expectations, he added, “I think I’ve said all I have to say about this topic.”
On Tuesday, Earnest reiterated the White House’s concerns about the sex party reports, but declined to confirm Leonhart’s resignation.
In response to the short-term suspensions imposed on DEA agents who engaged in illicit activities, lawmakers vowed to produce legislation to cut the red tape involved in firing federal employees who break the law.
Late Tuesday, Chaffetz and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., issued a joint statement in support of Leonhart’s retirement:
“In light of the DOJ Inspector General’s report and the testimony we heard before our committee, Ms. Leonhart’s retirement is 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 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.”
This story was updated to include the statement from Chaffetz and Cummings.