A new report has the Secret Service in hot water over old transgressions.
The agency is tasked with protecting the president, but on multiple occasions in 2011, agents were sent out of Washington, D.C. — while President Barack Obama was in residence — into rural Maryland to protect someone else: a fellow Secret Service employee who was the assistant to the agency's then-director and was having a personal dispute with a neighbor. They called it "Operation Moonlight."
Secret Service agents stand watch as President Barack Obama returns to the Oval Office at the White House, Oct. 14, 2014. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
A report from the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, John Roth, was made public by the Associated Press Wednesday, and it lambastes what Roth deemed "a serious lapse in judgment": On multiple occasions, Secret Service agents were pulled off White House protection duty and sent out to Maryland to help a headquarters employee handle the neighbor dispute.
Twice, the report states, agents were sent on the "50-minute drive (without traffic) from the White House" into Maryland while Obama was in the White House.
"These agents, who were there to protect the president and the White House, were improperly diverted for an impermissible purpose," Roth wrote. "The Secret Service's mission is to protect the president of the United States, and not to involve itself in an employee's purely private dispute best handled by the local police."
The Washington Post first reported on "Operation Moonlight" in May, but it has taken on new significance as public attention has focused on the agency's multiple failures to adequately protect the first family — failures that prompted the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson at the beginning of this month.
The operation occurred in the summer of 2011 when Lisa Chopey, who was assistant to then-director Mark Sullivan and a family friend of then-deputy director Keith Prewitt, became involved in an altercation with a neighbor.
According to the report released Wednesday, the dispute was pretty bad: the neighbor harassed Chopey and assaulted her father which "resulted in the loss of several of her father's teeth."
Former director of the Secret Service Mark Sullivan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
What happened next is where the report says the Secret Service was misused.
Even though Chopey had gotten local police to help handle her neighbor, Prewitt told A.T. Smith, then the assistant director for investigations, that the Secret Service should do something to help Chopey.
Two-agent "Prowler" units were dispatched to Chopey's La Plata, Maryland, home on five separate occasions — twice when Obama was in the White House.
Prowler units are not part of the normal presidential protective division, but are instead tasked with responding to suspicious persons around the White House, the AP noted.
In Wednesday's report, Secret Service personnel said that "Operation Moonlight" did not compromise Obama's safety.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said in a statement that the agency has "received the OIG memorandum and is reviewing it for findings."
Two of the leaders involved in the operation — Sullivan and Prewitt — now work in the private sector, the AP noted, but Smith is now the agency's deputy director.
Secret Service Deputy Director A.T. Smith, second right, watches as then-Director Julia Pierson testifies to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Sept. 30, 2014. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) who is leading investigations of the Secret Service, called the claim that the president's safety wasn't compromised by Operation Moonlight "hogwash," and he said Smith should be fired.
"[The report] shows how problematic the Secret Service is, top to bottom," Chaffetz said. "This is inexcusable."
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