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Apologies, Pledges Abound Again in New Secret Service Scandal

  • Associated Press

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2014, file photo, a Uniformed Secret Service police officer stands outside the White House in Washington.

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2014, file photo, a Uniformed Secret Service police officer stands outside the White House in Washington.

The Secret Service's cycle of apology, explanation and promises is back - this time, involving an attempt to embarrass a congressman investigating the seemingly non-stop shenanigans.

This scandal doesn't involve booze, women or security breaches. It revolves instead around a revelation that scores of Secret Service employees accessed the decade-old, unsuccessful job application of Jason Chaffetz, now a member of Congress, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee.

The latest incident turned personal when an assistant director of the Secret Service even suggested leaking embarrassing information to retaliate against the Utah Republican, according to a report by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general, John Roth.

The actions by the employees could represent criminal violations under the U.S. Privacy Act, according to the IG's report. "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 wrong,'' the report said.

Roth's latest report brought an abrupt end to a wave of applause for the agency's handling of Pope Francis's six-day tour of the United States. Chaffetz said he even wrote a letter congratulating the agency.

Then he learned about the full extent of a data breach first discovered when a story was published about his 2003 job application by The Daily Beast, on Internet publication.

"It's intimidating,'' Chaffetz said. "It's what it was supposed to be.''

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2015 file photo, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks in Washington.

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2015 file photo, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks in Washington.

Personal apology

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who had apologized to Chaffetz when the report initially surfaced, personally apologized again to the congressman Wednesday, Chaffetz told The Associated Press in an interview on Capitol Hill. Johnson did not disclose whether any employees had been punished.

He said in a statement Wednesday that "those responsible should be held accountable'' but did not provide further details.

"Activities like those described in the report must not, and will not, be tolerated,'' Johnson said.

Clancy also apologized Wednesday for "this wholly avoidable and embarrassing misconduct'' and pledged to hold those responsible for the data breach accountable.

Employees accessed Chaffetz's 2003 application for a Secret Service job starting 18 minutes after the start of a congressional hearing in March about the latest scandal involving drunken behavior by senior agents. Some forwarded the information to others. At least 45 employees viewed the file.

FILE - In this June 16, 2015, file photo, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

FILE - In this June 16, 2015, file photo, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Embarrassing info leak

One week later, Assistant Director Ed Lowery suggested leaking embarrassing information about Chaffetz in retaliation for aggressive investigations by Chaffetz's committee into a series of agency missteps and scandals, the report said. Days later, on April 2, the information about Chaffetz unsuccessfully applying for a job at the Secret Service was published by The Daily Beast.

Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair,'' Lowery wrote March 31 in an email to fellow Assistant Director Faron Paramore.

Chaffetz applied to join the Secret Service through a field office and was rejected and labeled "Better Qualified Applicant'' for unknown reasons. Chaffetz said he never interviewed with the agency and does not know why his application was declined.

During the investigation Chaffetz's office learned that a photo of him from a committee hearing was posted in at least one Secret Service office. Across the top and bottom of the photo was written: GOT BQA BY THE SERVICE IN 2003 BECAME A CONGRESSMAN IN 2009.

Lowery, who is in charge of training, told the inspector general he did not direct anyone to release information about Chaffetz and "believed it would have been inappropriate to do so,'' the report said. He told Roth the email was "reflecting his stress and his anger.''

Lowery declined to comment though a Secret Service spokesman.

Discipline

Chaffetz told the AP that Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., would conduct any congressional oversight hearings into the matter.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said anyone at the agency "unwilling or unable to meet the highest of ethical standards should not be a part of the Secret Service.''

Chaffetz said he was too close to the situation to judge what discipline should be meted out.

"It begs the question, why do these people have security clearances if they can't protect secret information,'' Chaffetz said. "It's stunning to think how pervasive it was. This wasn't one person who couldn't help themselves.''

The investigation found that 18 supervisors or members of the agency's senior executive service knew or should have known that employees had improperly accessed Chaffetz's job application, but only one person attempted to inform Clancy. The inspector general said that under U.S. law and Secret Service rules, employees were required to report such behavior to supervisors.

Clancy said he was not aware of what was going on until April 1.

Clancy, a retired agent, took the helm of the agency on a temporary basis late last year after then-Director Julia Pierson was ousted following the disclosure of two security breaches.

President Barack Obama formally appointed Clancy early this year despite recommendations from an independent review panel that the agency needed a leader from the outside.

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