At first, this story from the Washington Post seems impossible to believe. After all, the White House insists that they were cleared of any involvement in the Cartagena prostitute scandal by, er, their own internal investigation — a claim that White House aide Eric Schultz repeated to the Post’s Carol Leonnig and David Nakamura. That settles it, right? Wrong:
But new details drawn from government documents and interviews show that senior White House aides were given information at the time suggesting that a prostitute was an overnight guest in the hotel room of a presidential advance-team member — yet that information was never thoroughly investigated or publicly acknowledged.
The information that the Secret Service shared with the White House included hotel records and firsthand accounts — the same types of evidence the agency and military relied on to determine who in their ranks was involved.
The White House “internal investigation” consisted of … asking the aide if he was involved. Twice, though, so they could call it a thorough internal investigation:
The Secret Service shared its findings twice in the weeks after the scandal with top White House officials, including then-White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. Each time, she and other presidential aides conducted an interview with the advance-team member and concluded that he had done nothing wrong. …
One senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said Ruemmler believed it would be a “real scandal” if she had sent “a team of people to Colombia to investigate a volunteer over something that’s not a criminal act. . . . That would be insane.”
The “nothing wrong” conclusion wasn’t that the staffer, identified by the Post as Jonathan Dach, the son of a prominent Democratic donor, didn’t have one or more prostitutes in his hotel room. Dachs denied the allegation, and Ruemmler simply took him at his word because she didn’t want to pursue it. The “nothing wrong” conclusion stemmed from the fact that prostitution is legal in Cartagena, and that Dach wasn’t technically on salary during the trip — but the White House was paying his expenses and a per diem, so that’s a pretty thin reed to grasp. And if that’s true, then why punish the Secret Service agents? All of these people represented the US on this trip, and the White House staffer arguably more than the Secret Service agents.
One look at the calendar can explain it. The IG report was due in July 2012, a few months before the 2012 presidential election. The report got delayed, though, so that the Secret Service and DHS could comment on it. In late September, Congress began to hear rumors about cover-ups and political pressure, and the IG, Charles Edwards, insisted that nothing political was involved. At the same time, multiple media outlets reported that a White House staffer would be named in it. When the report finally did get released, the staffer mysteriously escaped mention.
Now we know why. The Post reports that the IG’s office got pressured to delay the report and to ignore evidence that pointed to the White House staffer. When members of the IG’s team balked, they got put on administrative leave. Edwards later resigned over allegations of misconduct, in this and other cases. The Secret Service agents had to undergo polygraphs; Dach apparently did not, not even after the Secret Service repeatedly brought evidence of his involvement with the prostitute scandal to the White House. At the time, the Secret Service Director was Mark Sullivan, who resigned in March 2013 in part due to the scandal.
The best part of the story? The Post did the investigation that Ruemmler was incapable of doing herself:
The Post reviewed copies of the hotel logs for Dach’s stay, which showed that a woman was registered to Dach’s room at 12:02 a.m. April 4 and included an attached photocopy of a woman’s ID card. Through his attorney, Dach declined to discuss these details as well.
Hotel staff members in Cartagena told federal investigators that they had determined Dach was one of three guests at the Hilton who had additional overnight guests registered to their rooms, federal records reviewed by The Post show. The other two were a military staffer stationed at the White House and another Secret Service agent.
The records reviewed by The Post list three names — one of which is redacted and identified only as a White House travel-team member. Two government officials who have seen an unredacted version separately confirmed that Dach is the travel-team member listed.
Ruemmler, as readers may recall, has been mentioned as a possible short-lister to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. This should effectively kill her chances of getting that nomination, or any other job requiring Senate confirmation. Even if one doesn’t believe that Ruemmler knowingly misled people about the aide’s involvement, being part of a cover-up (even unwittingly) is not a resume-enhancer for the top law-enforcement job in the United States. If Ruemmler handles an investigation this clumsily and this gullibly, exactly why would anyone put her in charge of any investigative bureau, let alone the largest in the country?
Ruemmler’s woes are the least of the problems for the White House, though. This is a full-blown cover-up, potentially a case of obstruction of justice, and appears to show that the Obama administration has corrupted the Inspector General process. And for what? The prostitute scandal wouldn’t have cost them the election, and Dach could have been kicked out of the White House with no repercussions except perhaps his dad’s contributions to the DNC. The cover-up is always worse than the crime, but this is the most absurd example of that paradigm in memory.