Congress and the State Department’s inspector general are examining allegations that senior officials working under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may have suppressed investigations into suspected criminal activity among U.S. diplomats abroad — including the alleged solicitation of prostitutes by an ambassador in Europe.
Lawmakers from both parties said the charges are “very serious” — and point out the need for a permanent inspector general at the State Department. A deputy inspector general has been active in recent years, but the department’s top watchdog post, tasked with investigating practices at roughly 260 embassies worldwide, has been vacant for more than five years.
A spokesman for office of inspector general said Tuesday that the probe into “allegations of quashing” by State Department higher-ups was triggered by a 2012 office of inspector general review of the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
That review uncovered complaints by some officials that they were not allowed to thoroughly investigate the allegations of criminal activity. As a result, the office of inspector general has hired independent law enforcement specialists to examine the complaints and the extent to which investigators within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security are being allowed the level of independence required to do their jobs effectively.
In addition to reviewing “eight allegations of criminal misconduct” that arose during the 2012 review, Doug Welty, a spokesman for the office of inspector general, said the office is “also looking into the allegations of quashing.”
Mr. Welty made the remarks as Undersecretary of State Patrick F. Kennedy issued a statement to reporters Tuesday saying he has “never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation.”
Mr. Welty and others at the State Department have declined to comment on the specific allegations related to “quashing.”
But Mr. Kennedy apparently made the statement in response to the CBS News report this week that insinuated that he was involved in suppressing an investigation into the activities of a U.S. ambassador accused of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
Citing “sources,” CBS News reported that after the accusation surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington to meet with Mr. Kennedy, but then was permitted to return to his post.
CBS also reported that officials from the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security told the office of inspector general that they were told to stop investigating the case.
The State Department has vigorously rejected the CBS report. A senior spokeswoman called it “preposterous” to claim the department would not vigorously investigate allegations of criminal misconduct.
Department officials have remained vague, however, about the details of the allegations in question.
As spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki refused Tuesday to confirm or deny whether a U.S. ambassador had been accused of patronizing prostitutes, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman emailed an abrupt statement to reporters, saying he was “angered and saddened” by “baseless allegations that have appeared in the press.”
“I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations, and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity,” Mr. Gutman said in the statement.
“To watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said.
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