The White House had information two years ago indicating that one of their advance travel volunteers, the son of a major Democratic donor with ties to the White House, was involved in the Secret Service prostitution scandal. That former aide now works for the State Department’s Office on Global Women’s Issues. State recommends a “zero-tolerance” government policy on prostitution even when, as in this case, it is legal in the country in question.
The Washington Post published a blockbuster story Wednesday night which alleges that 25-year-old Jonathan Dach, a White House volunteer working on the advance travel team for the President’s trip to Cartagena, Columbia, had a prostitute in his room. Dach is the son of Leslie Dach, a lobbyist who has donated large sums to elect Democrats and who also worked with the First Lady on her “Let’s Move” campaign.
The Post also reports there is some indication of a possible cover up. David Nieland, the leadinvestigator for the Department of Homeland Security, later told Senatestaffers he had been pressured by his supervisor to “alter certaininformation in the report of investigation because it was potentiallyembarrassing to the administration.” In addition, the Post reports that Nieland said, “We were directed at the time . . . to delay the report of the investigation until after the 2012 election.”
Twice after the scandal broke the Secret Service provided the White House, including White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, with information indicating that Dach had a prostitute in his room. On both occasions, the White House spoke to Dach and he denied the allegations. An unnamed administration official told the Post, “We concluded he was being truthful.”
However, the Post assembles information which suggests Dach was not being truthful in his denials. Hotels in Columbia keep detailed records of people entering for the night. Prostitution is legal but women entering a hotel are required to show ID and photocopies of the ID are kept in Hotel records. Having examined those records first hand, the Post reports that a woman did indeed check in to Dach room a few minutes after midnight. Contemporaneous investigative records show that the same woman was found advertised online as a prostitute, though the Post was unable to locate her two years later.
The White House has offered two reasons for treating Dach differently than the Secret Service agents caught up in the scandal. First, Dach was not an employee at the time of the incident but a volunteer. He was flown to Columbia to help oversee travel arrangements and received a per diem from the White House. Second, prostitution is legal in Columbia so no crime was committed. One source tells the Post that White House Counsel Ruemmler believed it would be absurd to send, “a team of people to Colombia to investigate a volunteer over something that’s not a criminal act.”
While Dach’s alleged actions were not a crime, they are at odds with the public stance of his current employer. Dach has a policy job in the State Department’s Office on Global Women’s Issues which focuses on women’s issues around the world including human trafficking and prostitution. In 2013 a State Dept. Fact Sheet on “Curbing Demand for Commercial Sex Acts” (issued by a different office within State) reads like a direct rebuke to both Dach and White House Counsel Ruemmler. It reads [Emphasis added]:
If there were no demand for commercial sex, sex trafficking would notexist in the form it does today. This reality underscores the need forcontinued strong efforts to enact policies and promote cultural normsthat disallow paying for sex…
Zero-tolerance policies for employees, uniformed service members, andcontractors paying for sex–even if legal in the country where theseindividuals work–and commensurate training for such individuals can helpraise awareness regarding the subtle and brutal nature of sextrafficking and how individuals subjected to this crime are victimizedthrough coercion.
The issue of Dach’s kid gloves treament by the White House became a major point of contention within the DHS office investigating the scandal. As already mentioned, the chief investigator later said he felt pressured to alter and delay the final report. In addition, he and two other investigators were put on administrative leave after they complained. They believe they were being punished for rocking the boat. One of the investigators even filed a formal complaint against a supervisor. The Post reports that Senate investigators reviewing the claims of retribution were unable to substantiate them.
After the story broke Wednesday night, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was quick to proclaim it old news:
Supposed WaPo “exclusive” was previously reported by AP, CBS, ABC, Politico, The Hill & others – 2 years ago. http://t.co/dk9qV0TbJK
— Josh Earnest (@PressSec) October 9, 2014
This overlooks the fact that the new Post story demonstrates the White House was probably wrong when it claimed, in 2012, that the hotel record on Dach was “incorrect.” The Post story suggests that was not the case. Rather it seems the White House was incorrect and, perhaps, even intentionally looked the other way.
In addition, claims made at the time that the aide did nothing wrong are apparently based on the idea that prostitution is not a crime in Columbia. As already pointed out, that aide’s current employer recommends a “zero-tolerance” policy for prostitution, “even if legal in the country where these individuals work.”
This morning the White House said that it stands by White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler’s investigation. Ruemmler is rumored to be a potential replacement for the departing Attorney General Eric Holder.