WASHINGTON - Top Secret Service officials ordered agents away from their posts patrolling the White House perimeter in 2011 to check on a personal friend and assistant of the agency's former director, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The Secret Service agents were diverted to monitor a rural residence outside La Plata, Maryland, nearly a one-hour drive from Washington.
Agents were told that then-Director Mark Sullivan was concerned his assistant, Lisa Chopey, was being harassed by her neighbour. They were sent to monitor the neighbour over a period of two months, the newspaper said, citing three unnamed people familiar with the operation.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed an"investigative" vehicle was sent to check on the physical safety of Chopey, an employee, but said that only occurred on the Fourth of July weekend in 2011. "These checks were conducted over a holiday weekend and ended once the employee was able to contact the local court once it reopened," Donovan said in a statement, noting President Barack Obama and his family were at Camp David in Maryland at the time.
The matter was referred to the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, an internal watchdog that conducts investigations.
In a statement, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said her agency and the inspector general's office were committed to completing a full investigation into the allegations. "Director Pierson will ensure the Secret Service responds to any findings from this investigation and implements any recommendations or corrective actions identified by the DHS OIG as appropriate," the statement said. "Any allegations of impropriety or misconduct will be aggressively investigated and addressed," it added.
The White House had no immediate comment on the matter.
The agents sent to La Plata were members of a Secret Service team code-named "Prowler" that patrols the area around the White House in an investigative capacity with no specific assignment, Donovan said. They are not part of the president's personal security detail. "Because there were no protective assets used during these checks, there was no impact on protective operations," Donovan said, adding that the action followed department protocol.
The Post said some Secret Service agents were concerned the diversions of agents to Chopey's home had increased security risks and were a potentially illegal use of government resources, citing two people familiar with those discussions.
The report comes about two years after the Secret Service was embroiled in controversy over an investigation into agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia ahead of an Obama trip there in 2012. Sullivan retired from the Secret Service about 10 months later, in February 2013.