Former Napolitano aide accused of pressuring federal watchdog

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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A lawyer for then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is under Senate investigation for allegedly pushing the department’s inspector general to whitewash a corruption report.

John Sandweg was Napolitano’s general counsel during the April 2012 Secret Service prostitution scandal, when at least nine agents brought prostitutes back to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, the Washington Times reports.

Sources close to a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee told the Times that lawmakers are now probing whether Sandweg leaned on Charles Edwards, Homeland Security’s acting inspector general, to alter crucial evidence and delay the release of the Secret Service report until after the 2012 election. Investigators are also looking into whether Noah Kroloff, Napolitano’s former chief of staff, was involved.

Sandweg, Kroloff and Napolitano did not respond to the Washington Times’ request for comment.

Edwards is himself the subject of a months-long Senate investigation on a slew of corruption allegations, including that he is “susceptible to political pressure.” A letter sent by the Senate subcommittee claims that he “intentionally changed and withheld [information] in both the public and non-public report of investigation into the misconduct by U.S. Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia.”

“The Secret Service operates so closely to the president that if it’s tainted, the president is tainted as well,” said Tom Fitton, president of the government accountability group Judicial Watch, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

As government watchdogs, inspectors general are designed to be independent and free from political meddling. The new allegations against Sandweg raise concerns that department heads like Napolitano unduly influence inspector general investigations in order to prevent particularly damaging revelations.

“Inspectors general do a lot of important work — and given our out-of-control government, every little bits helps — but they are tools of the administration,” Fitton said. “Sometimes they are vehicles to crack down on whistleblowers or suppress internal dissent, and sometimes their reports are both exposes and cover-ups at the same time.”

Fitton said that the Obama administration exacerbates this trend by failing to nominate permanent inspector generals for Senate confirmation. Six departments, including Homeland Security, Labor and Defense, are currently under the auspices of “acting” inspectors general. Fitton believes the lack of nominations may be by design.

“‘Acting’ inspectors general have the appearance of less authority,” he said, “so for those who don’t want critics within the administration, that’s probably quite suitable.”

“It’s a rare ‘acting’ individual that doesn’t dream of getting the job of a permanent appointee,” he continued, noting that the lure of promotion may induce some IGs to doctor evidence or kill an inconvenient investigation.

Sandweg was promoted following Napolitano’s retirement, and is now the “acting” head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He is the second recently-promoted Homeland Security official now under investigation; Alejandro Mayorkas, former head of the Citizenship and Immigration Service and Napolitano’s chosen successor, is also under scrutiny for reportedly politicizing visa applications.

Fitton thinks the promotions are no coincidence. “I think the number one reason [for political appointments] — in this administration especially — is the willingness of [the individual] to bend the law or bend the rules for political purposes,” he concluded.

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