Ex-DHS watchdog put on leave after critical report

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put his agency’s former internal watchdog on leave within hours of the publication of a Senate report that concluded the employee was too cozy with senior agency officials and delayed or classified some critical reports to accommodate President Barack Obama’s political appointees.

Charles K. Edwards had been allowed to quietly resign as acting inspector general and transfer to another post within the Homeland Security Department in December, just before Johnson took office. But after Johnson reviewed the 27-page report from a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs oversight subcommittee Thursday he put Edwards on leave.

Johnson’s quick response was at least his third move to tamp down what could have been political scandals, and stands in marked contrast to the leadership style of his predecessor, Janet Napolitano, who on several occasions allowed problems to fester until they become unavoidable entanglements.

“Since I took office in December, I have made clear that injecting a new energy in the leadership of DHS is a top priority,” Johnson said in a statement. “I have also made clear to our leadership that ethics in government, setting the example, and remaining above reproach are essential elements of good leadership.”

In February, less than two months into his tenure, Johnson abruptly scrapped plans for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ask a private company to give the government access to a nationwide database of license plate tracking information. The contract proposal had been posted on a government website for a few days before it was noticed and publicized in the media. An ICE spokeswoman said the contract solicitation had been posted “without the awareness of ICE leadership.”

Last month, Johnson met with senators to discuss the latest embarrassing episode involving drunken Secret Service agents sent home from a foreign trip with the president.

Johnson briefly joined Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to discuss the incident with members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The department said Johnson went to that meeting to show his support for Pierson.

Napolitano dealt with plenty of controversy, including a 2012 Secret Service prostitution scandal, in her more than four years at the helm of Homeland Security.

In 2010, The Associated Press obtained nearly 1,000 pages of internal emails that revealed that for at least a year Homeland Security officials detoured requests for federal records to senior political advisers for unusual scrutiny, looking for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive.

In 2012, the chief of staff at Immigration and Customs Enforcement was accused in a lawsuit of sexual discrimination and retaliation. She was granted a leave of absence and later resigned.

And last year, the department spent weeks dealing with the fallout from the release of thousands of immigrants being held in immigration jails.

The department and the White House initially said the releases involved only a few hundred people. The AP later reported that more than 2,000 people were released for budgetary reasons.

Napolitano said the AP’s story was “not really accurate” and developed “its own mythology.” But about a week later, then-ICE Director John Morton contradicted her and confirmed to a House panel that the government released 2,228 immigrants from jail.

Thursday’s suspension came within hours of a report that concluded that Edwards was not only politically influenced, but wasn’t qualified for his job. The report said that he also lacked the independence required of an inspector general.

Edwards’ internal transfer was announced just days before he was scheduled to testify before the Senate oversight subcommittee about the allegations.

Edwards did not respond to an emailed request for comment. He previously has denied any wrongdoing.

The Senate subcommittee report repeatedly criticized Edwards for his “frequent communications and personal relationships” with senior Homeland Security officials, including former acting general counsel John Sandweg and former chief of staff Noah Kroloff, as he conducted investigations and audits.

Edwards was also criticized for seeking legal advice from the Homeland Security general counsel’s office, despite being required by law to only get such advice from his own counsel or from another inspector general, the report said. Edwards told investigators for the subcommittee that he didn’t trust his own lawyer or anyone else in that legal counsel’s office.

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