House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) received apologies on Thursday from both DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and acting Secret Service chief Joseph Clancy, after a leak within the agency about Chaffetz’ own attempt to join the Secret Service. Chaffetz has become one of the most vocal public critics of the agency’s performance, and it seems as though one or more people within the Secret Service wanted to retaliate. Big mistake:
Senior staffers for a House committee overseeing the Secret Service have asked the Obama administration to investigate complaints that agency employees circulated private personnel information revealing that the panel’s chairman was once rejected for a job as an agent, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The committee staff referred the issue Thursday to the Department of Homeland Security after receiving whistleblower complaints that Secret Service staff at agency headquarters had circulated potentially unflattering information about Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). He has been an outspoken critic of Secret Service managers after a string of security lapses.
If the leakers thought they could embarrass Chaffetz, he set them straight quickly:
“I won’t be intimidated, but I’m sure that’s what it’s intended to do,” [Chaffetz] said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking Democratic member of the committee, called the allegations “disturbing” and agreed with Johnson that they must be thoroughly investigated.
“If that’s true, I find it appalling,” Cummings said. “There is absolutely no room for this kind of activity in the Secret Service… If true, it simply continues to erode the credibility of one of our most important agencies.”
Want to bet this had something to do with it? A week ago, Chaffetz read the riot act to Clancy for puzzling delays in the response to a bomb threat earlier in March, an investigation into which two agents stumbled and nearly drove over the possible bomb. Chaffetz ripped Clancy for the inexplicable hesitance to act even before the agents rolled into the barricade:
So much for the “secret” in Secret Service, eh? Which geniuses thought that they’d make Chaffetz back down by leaking his rejection? If for no other reason, they deserve to be rooted out for sheer stupidity. First, the rejection itself seems pretty routine; Chaffetz believes he was simply too old, already being in his mid-30s when he applied, and he never even made it to the interview phase, as he told the Washington Post. There is no indication that this rejection was scandalous, especially since the Secret Service rejects more than 90% of all applicants to the agency for one reason or another.
And in exchange for this complete non-sequitur, we now have reason to believe that the Secret Service has been politicized. It’s already under fire for several instances of incompetence, which is bad enough, but leaking confidential material to attack its political critics puts the agency in Nixonian territory — as well as the DHS under Jeh Johnson. Instead of giving Chaffetz a reason to back down, the leakers have waved a red flag in front of Chaffetz, giving him lots more motivation to charge. It also cuts the ground out from underneath any allies they might have on Oversight such as Cummings, who has no choice but to demand a crackdown on the agency now.
Don’t be surprised if Oversight starts issuing subpoenas. Any attempt by a federal agency to intimidate Congress, and especially those members explicitly tasked with their oversight, is a serious point of corruption. That applies especially to law-enforcement and intelligence organizations within the executive branch, and the Secret Service is both. If that’s all they have on Chaffetz, the next eighteen months should be excruciating for Johnson, Clancy, and the Secret Service.
Update: Jery; Bier reminds me that Chaffetz had already issued two subpoenas earlier in the week, which Johnson had planned to defy:
Citing a lack of cooperation from the Secret Service, Chairman Jason Chaffetz of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued subpoenas for two Secret Service agents to testify to the committee about recent security breaches and other disfunction at the agency. Chaffetz said that Secret Service director Clancy has gone back on a promise to make the two unnamed agents available to be interviewed by his committee, prompting the subpoenas. Within hours, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson fired back a sharply worded statement denying the charges of uncooperativeness along with a veiled threat to defy the subpoenas. …
The most contentious part of Johnson’s statement, however, addresses the subpoenaing of the two agents in question. Johnson wrote [emphasis added]:
“Those of us who are senior leaders in the Executive Branch understand the obligation to appear before Congress and give public testimony. In 2014, I testified before Congress 12 times, in addition to my numerous other duties. However, our subordinates, in particular the men and women of the U.S. Secret Service with the responsibility to protect the President and his family, are a different story. Director Clancy and I must fight to protect them against the visibility, public glare, and inevitable second-guessing, of a congressional hearing. I hope Chairman Chaffetz appreciates this…
“I will continue to work with Chairman Chaffetz and his committee to reach a reasonable accommodation that serves the Committee’s need to conduct responsible oversight without compromising the U.S. Secret Service’s extraordinarily protection mission.”
The ground has shifted on this, has it not? That makes this leak even stupider than I had previously argued.