Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chief Michele Leonhart – the official in charge of enforcing the nation’s laws and regulations regarding controlled substances – will be resigning her post in mid-May amid revelations about “sex parties” involving prostitutes and DEA agents overseas.
In a statement announcing Leonhart’s her decision to resign, Attorney General Eric Holder accepted her decision describing her as his “partner in the work of safeguarding our national security and protecting our citizens from crime, exploitation and abuse.”
Her resignation comes at a time of scandal within the agency that many say has undermined confidence in her leadership and ability to carry out DEA’s mission.
Details surrounding the scandal involving DEA agents, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents were revealed in a March investigative report released by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Investigators confirmed the DOJ personnel participated in “sex parties” with Colombian prostitutes paid for by drug cartels leading administration officials to question the quality of oversight and accountability at the agency.
The announcement came following Congressional hearings earlier this month that had committee members asking Leonhart to explain why she did not punish DEA agents more severely for the misconduct alleged to have taken place in the OIG report. Seven agents who admitted to participating in the “sex parties” received token suspensions ranging from two to ten days.
Leonhart testified that her powers and influence fell short of firing agents or revoking security clearances because as DEA director, she is “not allowed to invoke (herself) in the disciplinary process.”
A frustrated Representative Trey Gowdy, (R-SC) asked Leonhart “…what power do you have? You have to work with agents over whom you can’t discipline and have no control. What the hell do you get to do?”
Following her testimony, Leonhart sent out a mass email to DEA employees where she drew a line between the bad apples responsible for the abuses alleged in the OIG report and all other DEA personnel who have demonstrated fidelity to the agency and its mission. Leonhart writes:
“This has been a very difficult week for DEA, with members of Congress and the media asking tough questions and sharing our outrage about the disgraceful conduct of a few individuals several years ago.
This employee misconduct has upset me for many reasons, but especially because it calls into question the incredible reputation DEA has built over more than 40 years.”
According to the report, the sex parties took place in government-leased buildings and that the DEA agents involved left their laptops, electronic devices, weapons and other property to foreigners for safe-keeping.
Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, characterized the details of the “sex party” event as “a truly breathtaking recklessness by DEA agents who are sworn to protect our country”… and describing the DEA as an agency “completely out of control.”
Before the allegations detailed in the report, Leonhart has appeared to resist relaxing federal rules on enforcing marijuana, even as states legalize both medical and recreational uses for the drug. She has been leading the agency in an acting capacity since 2007 and was nominated to serve as administrator in 2010.
One question that remains unanswered following the release of the report is the reason why Leonhart, who has been with the DEA since 1993 is being dealt with so harshly while officials at the FBI and ATF are being given a pass.
Some suspect that removing Leonhart as DEA’s top cop over the “sex party” scandal is a cover story for the real reason – differences over the issue of marijuana and the enforcement of federal law in states like Colorado and California that have legalized it.
Leonhart believes federal laws regarding marijuana should either be enforced or changed while lawless policy makers in the Obama Administration who know Congress would not go along do not.