WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Thursday that “significant concerns” have been raised by reports that scores of Secret Service employees accessed the unsuccessful job application of a congressman who was investigating scandals at the agency that protects the president among others.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said, though, that President Barack Obama retained confidence in both the agency’s director and that the “appropriate steps” will be taken to hold accountable any individuals who didn’t follow proper procedures.
The Secret Service inspector general reported Wednesday that the actions by agency employees who looked at the personnel file of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, could amount to criminal violations of the U.S. Privacy Act.
“The report that was released does raise significant concerns about whether or not all those procedures were followed or at least whether those procedures were followed properly,” Earnest told reporters. “The president certainly has confidence that the appropriate steps will be taken to hold accountable those who didn’t follow procedures.”
Earnest noted that Chaffetz has received apologies from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secret Service Director Joe Clancy.
“When there are mistakes that are made, we’ve seen the director do the right thing, which is step up and take responsibility and offer an apology where it’s appropriate, but also assure, not just congressman Chaffetz, but also the president and the American people that there will be accountability” he said.
The agency’s initial response to the IG report “is a strong indication that there is effective leadership in place at the Secret Service,” Earnest said.
The latest incident turned personal when an assistant director of the Secret Service even suggested leaking embarrassing information to retaliate against the Republican, according to a report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, John Roth. His report said the actions could represent criminal violations under the U.S. Privacy Act.
“It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here — by dozens of agents in every part of the agency — was wrong,” the report said.
Roth’s latest report brought an abrupt end to a wave of applause for the agency’s handling of Pope Francis’s six-day tour of the United States. Chaffetz said he even wrote a letter congratulating the agency.
Then he learned about the full extent of a data breach first discovered when a story was published about his 2003 job application by The Daily Beast, on Internet publication.
“It’s intimidating,” Chaffetz said. “It’s what it was supposed to be.”
Jeh Johnson, who had apologized to Chaffetz when the report initially surfaced, personally apologized again to the congressman Wednesday, Chaffetz told The Associated Press in an interview on Capitol Hill. Johnson did not disclose whether any employees had been punished.
Chaffetz applied to join the Secret Service through a field office and was rejected and labeled “Better Qualified Applicant” for unknown reasons. Chaffetz said he never interviewed with the agency and does not know why his application was declined.
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