White House staff involved in Cartagena brothel scandal?

Will the Cartagena brothel case make an unwelcome reappearance in the middle of Barack Obama’s re-election efforts?  That’s what sources from law enforcement and Capitol Hill told Fox News yesterday, saying that an upcoming report on the Secret Service scandal will also name two White House staffers as suspects:

Federal law enforcement personnel and a congressional committee are anxiously awaiting an overdue inspector general’s report that they believe may reveal the involvement of two White House advance team members in the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia earlier this year.

While much of the attention in the case has focused on the actions of Secret Service personnel, multiple law enforcement and congressional sources tell FoxNews.com that investigators also discovered two White House advance team members checked in prostitutes as overnight guests at a Cartagena hotel in the days before President Obama’s April 13 visit.

“Three U.S. delegation members that stayed at the Hilton brought prostitutes back as overnight guests. One of them was ours (Secret Service) and the other two were White House staffers,” a high-ranking Secret Service official told FoxNews.com. “We knew very early that White House staffers were involved.”

Actually, the worry is that the report won’t name names in the White House.  The Senate Homeland Security Committee has apparently long known of the involvement of the White House staffers, and expected to have that information formally from the IG when the report was due in July.  The report has been delayed, however, while the IG allows the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security to comment on its findings.  That has members of the committee wondering whether the IG will include that commentary separately, or plans to change the report after the comments but before the report is presented to the committee.

To that end, the committee sent a letter to the IG inquiring about the process and the delay — which one source described as a warning to the IG to resist any pressure to water down their findings:

“We are writing to inquire about the status of the investigation we requested into the April 2012 incidents in Cartagena, Colombia, involving the U.S. Secret Service and possibly other federal personnel and certain foreign nationals,” the letter said. It was not clear what level of White House advance team personnel were involved or if they had access to classified material about the president’s visit.

The letter contained questions including the date the draft report was completed; if the report had been submitted to Secret Service and DHS for comment; and whether those comments will be identified separately in the final report. It also asks: “Have any changes been made to the report in response to comments received from the Secret Service or the Department?”

“Obviously we’re worried the draft version of the report — what the DHS IG investigators found on the ground in Cartagena — is going to get changed and edited before the final version gets out,” said a Secret Service source with knowledge of the IG’s initial findings.

Frankly, I don’t see this as a big enough scandal to get in the way of Obama’s electoral hopes.  If the White House was that concerned about it, they would have fired the staffers already (and maybe they have).  The delay doesn’t really help them, either; July would have been a much better release date in political terms, when most voters weren’t paying attention to Washington, and the topic wouldn’t have been refreshed just as the presidential debates neared.  The only way a delay helps is if the report doesn’t come out until later in November, after the election — and the Senate committee clearly wants answers earlier rather than later.

Even if the report identifies two White House advance team members as part of the, er, festivities, the obvious response will be to can them and declare the issue closed.  I’d put this in the same category as Mitt Romney’s “secret” remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — not a big deal in terms of the election.