Grassley presses White House on communications agency misconduct in prostitution scandal

AP photo

The security implications could be enormous.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked the White House yesterday if it has investigated the involvement of any civilian employees of the White House Communications Agency in the Colombia prostitution scandal.

The Defense Information Systems Agency confirmed Monday that one military member of the communications agency was under investigation for misconduct while supporting President Obama’s trip there earlier this month. A dozen Secret Service agents and now 12 military personnel are under investigation in the scandal, which erupted after a night of carousing in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 11.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was concerned about the security implications of the misconduct. Personnel reportedly brought prostitutes to the hotel where they were staying in advance of the president’s arrival. Prostitution is legal in Colombia.

Presidential press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at a White House briefing Monday that the White House general counsel last weekend reviewed the activities of the White House advance team and determined “there was no indication of misconduct” by its members.

Any investigation of WHCA personnel has to be conducted by the Pentagon, he said, emphasizing “they are not members of the White House staff. They are not chosen by the White House senior staff. They are no more members of the White House staff than Secret Service personnel who you see every day on the grounds here are members of the White House staff.”

WHCA has a staff of approximately 1,000 people drawn from all four services and provides secure communications for the president at home and abroad.

In a letter to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested details on the White House review that Carney referenced at the briefing and asked specifically if it was coordinated with the Defense Department’s investigation of military employees of the White House Communications Agency.

Grassley also asked, “were civilian employees of WHCA also examined?” The Defense Information Systems Agency, which oversees WHCA personnel, referred all questions about the investigation to the Pentagon, which has not responded to queries from Nextgov.

Panetta said the Pentagon has yanked the security clearances of the military personnel implicated in the scandal pending the results of an ongoing investigation. At a press briefing aboard his aircraft en route to Colombia yesterday, Panetta said, “we expect our people, wherever they are, to abide by the highest standards of conduct. And I want this investigation to be thorough.”

He added, “Frankly, my biggest concern is the issue of security and what could possibly have been jeopardized by virtue of this kind of behavior. That's the key concern for me, and I'm hoping that our investigators will be able to give us a full report on that.”