Why Rote Denials Won’t Cut It on the State Department Scandals

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Generic Denials Just Won’t Cut It for the Latest State Department Scandals

Let’s take a close look at what we know about that State Department Inspector General memo, shall we?

An internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples. Among them: allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”

After the Secret Service scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, government security officials’ having sex with prostitutes simply cannot be dismissed as unthinkable. And there are some who suspect, or fear, that this sort of thing is a lot more widespread and even quasi-accepted than we would ever believe. As a detailed Washingtonian article on the Secret Service scandal concluded, “To believe that the Cartagena affair was unique, you’d also have to believe that this group of 13 men — not all of whom knew one another — broke into separate groups and independently got the idea, for the first time ever, to go out looking for prostitutes.”

Now the really shocking scandal that IG memo referenced:

In one specific and striking cover-up, State Department agents told the Inspector General they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.

The State Department Inspector General’s memo refers to the 2011 investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched . . . his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”

Sources told CBS News that after the allegations surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington, D.C. to meet with Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but was permitted to return to his post.

Notice the plural, “agents.” So it’s not just one agent of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service suddenly going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and attempting to smear the name of an ambassador over a vendetta or something. While it’s possible you could get two agents to make up a bombshell allegation like this . . . it seems a little less likely, and they must have been plausible enough to get the IG’s office to take them seriously. Note that CBS News spoke to two diplomatic security agents who spoke, on camera, about higher-ups quashing their investigation: Aurelia Fedenisn and Mike Poehlitz.

Anyway, the ambassador named came out and denied the charges:

In a fast-developing story, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has been named as the diplomat accused of soliciting “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to State Department documents obtained by NBC News. Gutman denied the allegations, in a statement to The Cable and other outlets.

“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said. “At no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”

For someone accused of a horrific crime, it’s a Catch-22. Past experience makes us skeptical of weaselly, carefully worded, over specific denials; but blanket denials and an effort to dismiss the whole thing, without answering questions from a skeptics on the record, don’t provide much reassurance, either.

The score so far: two detailed accounts from two professional diplomatic security personnel, found credible by the Department’s Inspector General, against two generic sweeping denials.

If the allegation is true, there will be a lot of witnesses — particularly the ambassador’s security detail. Beyond that, we can verify or refute other parts of the story. Was Gutman called to Washington to meet with Kennedy? If so, what did they discuss?

Oh, and here’s the note you’ve been waiting for:

On Tuesday, Nicholas Merrill, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, said Clinton was completely unaware of any of the investigations mentioned in the Office of the Inspector General’s reports and memos, including the case involving her personal security detail allegedly soliciting prostitutes.

“We learned of it from the media and don’t know anything beyond what’s been reported,” Merrill told CNN in a written statement.

Of course. Of course! Why would she know about investigations of crimes by State Department employees, right?

Here’s Hillary, unveiling a new report on human trafficking and sex trafficking, back in June 2012:

“This report gives a clear and honest assessment of where all of us stand,” Clinton said Tuesday. “It takes a hard look at every government in our world including our own . . . It is important that we hold ourselves to the same standard as everyone else.”

Thank goodness there’s a new sheriff in town at Foggy Bottom, running a much tighter ship.

Above: The new sheriff.

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