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White House sidesteps US drug agency sex party allegation questions

The US White House spokesman has sidestepped questions about the head of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. A damaging report emerged alleging DEA agents have attended sex parties with prostitutes since 2001.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked twice on Thursday if President Barack Obama retained confidence in Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The questions came in the wake of a Justice Department report by an internal watchdog which found that ten DEA agents participated in sex parties, paid for by drug cartels in Colombia. Of the ten accused agents, seven were issued with suspensions ranging from one to ten days.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives have said they have lost confidence in Leonhart.

Earnest said that Obama "has very high expectations for everybody who serves in this administration."

"We do have concerns about what's been reported by the Office of the Inspector General," Earnest said, referring to the internal watchdog that detailed the allegations.

"We're certainly supportive of the efforts that are under way at the Department of Justice to address those concerns," he said.

Leonhart has been head of the DEA since 2007 and was deputy for three years before that. She has said that civil service protections make it difficult to fire DEA agents. As administrator, she said she was powerless to step in during disciplinary proceedings and in some cases could not even revoke an agent's security clearance.

Sex party history

DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes while stationed overseas as far back as 2001, according to the report. Money to pay prostitutes at a government-funded farewell party for a high-ranking DEA official was included in an "operational budget" according to the report. DEA agents also rented undercover apartments in Colombia and used them for parties with prostitutes, the DEA said in an internal report.

Parts of the DEA report were released by the House Oversight Committee which is investigating questionable behavior raised in a report by the Justice Department in March. It examined sexual harassment and misconduct allegations from 2009 to 2012.

The Justice Department report recounts allegations that DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes, funded by local drug cartels, in an unidentified foreign country. The DEA report released Tuesday identified it as Colombia.

A separate prostitution scandal in 2012 involving the Secret Service drew attention to questionable behavior by law enforcement officers stationed overseas. Those allegations led to Congress ordering a review of other agencies.

jm/bw (AP, Reuters)