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POLITICS: PennAve

Exclusive: Secret Service agents accused of ordering 'Operation Moonlight' remain on the job

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Two Secret Service officials accused of diverting members of a special White House unit to protect the assistant and friend of the agency's director are still on the job and have not been placed on administrative leave while the matter is under investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter.

David Beach and Jim Donaldson, the two agents in charge of the Washington field office, allegedly ordered members of the Secret Service's Prowler unit, which is responsible for patrolling the White House perimeter, to leave their posts and travel to the southern Maryland town of La Plata, an hour's drive from Washington. The Washington Post first reported the story May 11.

The agents were diverted to their new assignment, known internally as Operation Moonlight, because then-Director Mark Sullivan was worried that a neighbor was harassing his assistant, Lisa Chopey, and that she was in danger, the sources said.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan would not say whether Beach and Donaldson are continuing to work while the Department for Homeland Security's inspector general investigates the matter. The Secret Service is a division of DHS.

“The Secret Service will respond to any findings from this investigation and implement any recommendations or corrective actions identified by the DHS [Office of Inspector General] as appropriate,” Donovan told the Washington Examiner. “We won't discuss individual employee status related to this investigation.”

The spokesman also disputed the duration of Operation Moonlight, saying it took place over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011 while President Obama and his family were at Camp David, the presidential retreat north of Washington. The Washington Post reported that the agents were pulled from the White House for nearly two months and were sent out to La Plata twice a day to monitor Chopey's home.

“The welfare checks of an employee you’re referencing occurred over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011,” Donovan said. “A Washington Field Office vehicle, an investigative asset, was used to do these periodic checks. Because there were no protective assets used during these checks, there was no impact on protective operations.”

The Prowler vehicle in question operates out of the Washington field office, just a few blocks from the White House. Two knowledgeable sources told the Washington Examiner the vehicle was assigned to monitor an area of the White House perimeter when the president departs and arrives in Marine One, the presidential helicopter, on the White House's south lawn.

When the Washington Post story first appeared, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said in a statement that she had asked the DHS IG to investigate the matter.

Pierson, the first woman to head the agency in its 150-year history, served as Sullivan's chief of staff before she was tapped to replace him in March of 2013 after news that agents brought prostitutes back to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, in late 2012. The agents were there to prepare for Obama's visit two days later. News that the agents had hired prostitutes led to Congressional hearings, several reprimands and suspensions, as well as Sullivan's retirement.

Over the last year, Pierson has quietly worked to implement reforms and try to restore the Secret Service's reputation.

Three days before her anniversary on the job, however, she was confronted by another scandal involving three agents. Three members of the president's protective detail had been ordered to return home from a trip to the Netherlands after one was found passed out drunk in the hallway of the hotel where the president was staying. The three agents were sent home and immediately placed on administrative leave based on supervisors' conclusion that they had violated agency-wide rules that prohibited drinking within 10 hours of reporting for their shifts.

Since news of that episode broke, details of another incident in early March also surfaced. Two counter-sniper agents were involved in a car accident in the Florida Keys during a presidential visit to Miami on March 7 and were suspected of drinking. It is not known whether the two involved in the accident were placed on administrative leave.

The driver passed a field sobriety test and was not arrested. The two officers involved in the accident were sent back to Washington.

After the most recent incidents, Pierson demoted the supervisor of one of the agencies largest divisions, reassigned nearly two dozen members of its staff and instituted stricter rules on drinking for the special operations division. Agents are now barred from drinking alcohol within 12 hours of reporting for duty and 24 hours before the president's arrival at any trip location.

"Personnel are being reassigned as a result of staffing rotations and as a result of assessments made after two recent incidents of misconduct," agency spokesman Donovan said at the time. "Director Pierson maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding incidents of misconduct and continues to evaluate the best human-capital practices and policies for the workforce."

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