Get ready for the next set of hearings into executive-branch misconduct, this time at the House Foreign Relations Committee.  After CBS News exposed a series of obstructions on investigations of wrongdoing at State that may involve former Hillary Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills and longtime aide Patrick Kennedy, Foreign Relations chair Rep. Ed Royce sent current Secretary of State John Kerry a letter requesting answers to three questions and all supporting documentation on the emerging scandal:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am deeply troubled by the allegations made in a recent CBS News story that senior State Department officials prevented the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) from investigating reports of administrative and criminal misconduct within the Department.  This story further alleged that the Department’s Office of Inspector General produced an October 2012 memorandum that contained eight specific instances in which DSS investigations were “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off.”

Among the cases reportedly investigated by DSS and contained in the memorandum: a State Department security official in Beirut was alleged to have sexually assaulted foreign nationals hired as embassy guards; members of former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s security detail allegedly “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries”; an “underground drug ring” may have supplied security contractors at Embassy Baghdad with drugs; and a U.S. Ambassador at a “sensitive diplomatic post” was “suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.”  The notion that any or all of these cases would not be investigated thoroughly by the Department is unacceptable.

According to the article, OIG then generated a draft report, apparently based on the above memorandum, in which the Office reportedly concluded: “Hindering such cases calls into question the integrity of the investigative process, can result in counterintelligence vulnerabilities and can allow criminal behavior to continue.”  But in the final version of the report, which was released in February 2013, all references to these specific cases were removed.  Instead, the OIG concluded simply: “The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Investigations Division (SID), which investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, lacks a firewall to preclude the DS and Department of State (Department) hierarchies from exercising undue influence in particular cases.”

In light of the possibility that the Department interfered with the independence of DSS investigations, I ask that you provide Committee staff with a briefing on this matter as soon as possible and answer the following questions in writing:

1.      Did any State Department official instruct the Diplomatic Security Service not to pursue any of the eight cases identified in the October 2012 OIG memorandum?

2.      If so, please indentify the individual(s) and the nature of their influence on these DSS investigations.

3.      Has the Department taken any actions in response to either the OIG February 2013 Inspection report and/or the CBS News report?  If so, please detail them.

Please also produce all documents and communications referring and/or relating to the eight cases cited by the October 2012 OIG memorandum.

I request that you provide the requested documents and information as soon as possible, but no later than 5:00 p.m. on June 25, 2013.  When producing documents to the Committee, please deliver production sets to the Majority Staff in Room 2170 of the Rayburn House Office Building and the Minority Staff in Room B360 of the Rayburn House Office Building.  The Committee prefers, if possible, to receive all documents in electronic format.  An attachment to this letter provides additional information about responding to the Committee’s request.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Thomas Alexander, Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations, at (202) 225-5021.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

EDWARD R. ROYCE                         

Chairman

Not too many media outlets picked up on this, but it’s significant. The deadline is two weeks out, a rather ambitious schedule that strongly suggests that Royce plans to hold public hearings during the summer session before the August recess. Otherwise, he’d give the relatively new Secretary of State more time to produce the documents and to get answers to those questions.  Unlike some of the other scandals currently percolating in Washington, this one has almost immediate criminal consequences if proven true (obstruction) as well as no good cover story on national-security grounds, such as the NSA and DoJ leaks investigations scandals do.  There isn’t an explanation in the world possible to write off protecting an ambassador prowling public parks looking for underage prostitutes.

The State Department seems to realize this … belatedly:

The State Department said on Tuesday it was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by overseas staff including a report that an ambassador patronized prostitutes after a leaked memo said the agency had ignored the misbehavior.

CBS News this week reported it had obtained an internal State Department inspector general’s memo that said several investigations into possible cases of misconduct were influenced, manipulated or called off.

The ambassador identified by the New York Post — but not by the whistleblower or member of Congress — expressed outrage over the accusation:

Although the CBS report did not identify employees alleged to have been involved, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman issued a statement on Tuesday denying he did anything wrong.

“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” Gutman said.

“I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”

Jim Geraghty has a lengthy round-up of news on this scandal, including a rebuttal to the rebuttals:

Now the really shocking scandal that IG memo referenced:

In one specific and striking cover-up, State Department agents told the Inspector General they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.

The State Department Inspector General’s memo refers to the 2011 investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detai” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”

Sources told CBS News that after the allegations surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington, D.C. to meet with Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but was permitted to return to his post.

Notice the plural, “agents.” So it’s not just one agent of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service suddenly going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and attempting to smear the name of an ambassador over a vendetta or something. While it’s possible you could get two agents to make up a bombshell allegation like this… it seems a little less likely, and they must have been plausible enough to get the IG’s office to take them seriously. Note that CBS News spoke to two diplomatic security agents who spoke, on camera, about higher-ups quashing their investigation: Aurelia Fedenisn and Mike Poehlitz. …

For someone accused of a horrific crime, it’s a Catch-22. Past experience makes us skeptical of weaselly, carefully-worded, over specific denials; but blanket denials and an effort to dismiss the whole thing, without answering questions from a skeptics on the record, don’t provide much reassurance, either.

The score so far: two detailed accounts from two professional diplomatic security personnel, found credible by the Department’s Inspector General, against two generic sweeping denials.

Better to get everyone under oath at a House committee hearing.  Wonderful thing, subpoenas.