(Update: In his first public comment on the misconduct and cover up allegations, Secretary of State John Kerry said late Wednesday afternoon that “all employees of this department are held to the highest standards of behavior, and now and always.” He said he welcomed the Office of Inspector General’s invitation to outside former law enforcement experts to review the internal investigations process. “I welcome that, I think the department welcomes that, because we do want the highest standards applied.”)
(CNSNews.com) – Amid continuing fallout over allegations that senior State Department officials tried to stop investigations into personnel misconduct, Secretary of State John Kerry kept a low profile Tuesday, making no public comment on the controversy.
Kerry abruptly postponed a visit to the Middle East this week to take part in White House talks on the Syria crisis, and on Wednesday he is due to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, with Syria topping the agenda.
He had no public engagements on Tuesday although – in an event closed to the press – he did swear in the new ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones.
Meanwhile State Department officials were fending off allegations – first reported by CBS News, citing an internal Oct. 2012 memo by the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) – that eight probes by the department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) into suspected wrongful conduct by employees had been improperly influenced or cut short by senior personnel.
The suspected misconduct, which occurred during the tenure of Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, included the alleged use of prostitutes by Clinton’s security personnel during foreign trips – a practice described as “endemic” – and the alleged solicitation of prostitutes, including minors, by a Europe-based U.S. ambassador.
In the latter case, the OIG memo reportedly said that undersecretary of state for management, Patrick Kennedy, had interviewed the ambassador in Washington but ordered a halt to the DSS investigation.
The ambassador in question issued a statement Tuesday denying any wrongdoing, while Kennedy in a separate statement denied improper interference.
“It is my responsibility to make sure the department and all of our employees – no matter their rank – are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation,” Kennedy said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Kerry Tuesday, requesting a briefing for committee staff, including written answers to questions.
Among these, Royce asked Kerry to identify any State Department officials who may have influenced DSS probes into the alleged misconduct, and the nature of their influence on the investigations.
He also asked Kerry to produce, by June 25, all documents and communications relating to the eight cases cited in the OIG memo.
At a regular State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki for a second consecutive day declined to talk about any of the specific cases – even when invited to state that the ambassador concerned had been exonerated and had the department’s full confidence.
Psaki said she was not aware that Kerry had spoken to the ambassador.
She also reiterated that “the notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconduct is not only preposterous, it’s inaccurate.”
Psaki said the Oct. 2012 OIG document being cited in media reports was an internal memo that “included a number of unsubstantiated accusations” – allegations that the DSS had already at that point begun, or in some cases had already completed, investigating.
A final OIG report on Diplomatic Security, dated Feb. 2013 and publicly available, does not include any of the specific allegations of wrongdoing from that earlier memo.
The report does contain references to concerns about the ability of the DSS division that investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, known as the Special Investigations Division (SID), to do its work without fear of interference.
It said the SID “lacks a firewall to preclude” the exercise by department hierarchies of “undue influence in particular cases.”
The fact that those being investigated may in the future have a role in decisions relating to investigators’ promotion or choice of assignments was identified as a concern.
“During inspection interviews, nearly every SID special agent acknowledged being aware that one or more suspects, witnesses, or senior Department officials could one day serve on a promotion board or on a DS assignment panel that would decide the investigator’s career prospects,” the report said.
“Although most investigators said that they had not experienced career pressure in any particular cases, some had indeed felt such pressure.”
“The current SID structure does not foster independence from career pressures and creates significant potential for undue influence, favoritism, and potential retribution,” it said.
Psaki said the OIG had since the report’s release brought on some experienced former law enforcement officers to review the DSS investigation process – a decision she said the State Department “fully supports.”
“We look forward to their final report.”