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Washington • About 18 minutes into U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz's March hearing on the Secret Service's series of security lapses, a senior agent logged into the agency's computer database to find that the Utah Republican had once applied, and been rejected, for a job with the service.
Within days, about 45 Secret Service agents or employees accessed Chaffetz's personal information, and that information had been passed on to the news media in an attempt to embarrass Chaffetz, who, as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had been a vocal critic of the agency.
"These agents work for an agency whose motto 'worthy of trust and confidence' is engraved in marble in the lobby of their headquarters building," says the report released Wednesday by the Homeland Security Department's Inspector General John Roth. "Few could credibly argue that the agents involved in this episode lived up to that motto."
The report led the heads of both the Secret Service and Homeland Security to apologize to Chaffetz and promise swift action against those involved.
Agents or Secret Service staffers accessed Chaffetz's records about 60 times and, with a few exceptions, violated federal privacy laws and government policies, the report says. Chaffetz's information was accessed by Secret Service officials from across the country, including at its headquarters and in Dallas, Boston and Phoenix. One agent logged in from London to view the files.
Another agent acknowledged leaking the information to an outside source and talking to The Washington Post, though his or her name was redacted from the report.
The Daily Beast published a story April 2, headlined "Congressman Who Oversees Secret Service Was Rejected by Secret Service," and The Post followed quickly with a similar story.
The Secret Service and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson apologized shortly after the first news reports surfaced. But the inspector general's report says that many senior officials knew that agents and employees had been accessing Chaffetz's records, and the information had become common chatter in the agency.
"One agent reported that by the end of the second day, he was sent on a protection assignment in New York City for the visit of the president of Afghanistan," the report states, "and many of the approximately 70 agents at the protection briefing were talking about the issue."
That may not be by accident.
On March 31, two days before the news emerged publicly, Ed Lowery, an assistant director and head of Secret Service training, emailed the head of Congressional and Public Affairs with the Chaffetz info.
"Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out," Lowery wrote. "Just to be fair."
Chaffetz applied to the Secret Service in 2003 but he was never interviewed and his file was marked to indicate that better qualified candidates existed. Chaffetz has previously said he believes he was too old (he would have been 36) to apply.
Despite the leak of his personal data, Chaffetz said he is resolute to conduct "proper and rigorous oversight."
"Certain lines should never be crossed. The unauthorized access and distribution of my personal information crossed that line," the Utah congressman said. "It was a tactic designed to intimidate and embarrass me, and, frankly, it is intimidating. It's scary to think about all the possible dangers in having your personal information exposed."
Maryland's Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Oversight and Government Reform, said the report's findings are "utterly unacceptable and indefensible."
"The Secret Service owes Chairman Chaffetz an immediate apology and must implement the strictest of disciplinary measures as soon as possible," Cummings said. "Although the inspector general identified no evidence of political motivation or influence, I believe in fundamental fairness, and those who are unwilling or unable to meet the highest of ethical standards should not be a part of the Secret Service."
Secret Service Director Joe Clancy on Wednesday again apologized to Chaffetz "for this wholly avoidable and embarrassing misconduct."
"The Secret Service takes employee misconduct very seriously, and, as I have stated before, any employee, regardless of rank or seniority, who has committed misconduct will be held accountable," Clancy said in a statement. "This incident will be no different, and I will ensure the appropriate disciplinary actions are taken."
Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, also apologized to Chaffetz and said he was confident Clancy would take appropriate action against the agents who broke policy or the law.
"Activities like those described in the report," Johnson said, "must not, and will not, be tolerated."