Pubdate: Wed, 22 Apr 2015
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2015 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Devlin Barrett


Resignation comes amid disagreements with Obama administration on drug 
and criminal-justice policy

The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has decided to 
resign amid mounting disagreements with the Obama administration on drug 
and criminal-justice policy, and intense criticism of her handling of a 
sex-party scandal involving DEA agents.

Michele Leonhart, who has led the agency since 2007, has been under 
growing pressure to depart. Her hold on the job has been precarious for 
more than a year following her apparent discomfort with the Obama 
administration's acceptance of laws in some states decriminalizing 

She also distanced herself from the Justice Department's effort to scale 
back some prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that Ms. 
Leonhart, a career law-enforcement officer who worked on the Baltimore 
police force before becoming a DEA agent, would retire next month.

He called Ms. Leonhart a "trailblazer for equality and an inspiration to 
countless others," noting she was a female agent who rose through the 
ranks during a 35-year career. "She has devoted her life and her 
professional career to the defense of our nation and the protection of 
our citizens, and for that, I am deeply grateful,'' Mr. Holder said.

Ms. Leonhart couldn't be reached for comment.

A former DEA chief, Peter Bensinger, criticized the Obama administration 
for forcing her out. The sex-party scandal, he said, "is not what is 
causing her departure. This is about her courage to enforce the law. 
It's about marijuana which is illegal in all 50 states under federal 
law, it's about our international treaty obligations, it's about the 
asset forfeiture law, and minimum sentencing for serious drug offenses. 
It's about politics.''

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Bensinger's 

Ms. Leonhart's time as the nation's top drug enforcement officer saw 
major changes in government policy toward drugs, particularly marijuana. 
Those changes left her increasingly at odds with her bosses in the Obama 
administration, but neither she nor the White House seemed willing to 
have a public confrontation on the issue.

Public criticism of Ms. Leonhart intensified this month after a Justice 
Department inspector general report found that DEA agents had engaged in 
sex parties in Colombia, where prostitution is legal in certain zones. 
The agents received what lawmakers of both parties called light 
punishment-suspensions without pay ranging from two to 10 days.

At a congressional hearing last week, legislators questioned whether Ms. 
Leonhart should continue to lead the agency. She defended herself by 
saying she had little direct control over the DEA's disciplinary 
process, and was trying to improve it.

After the hearing, nearly two dozen lawmakers signed a letter saying 
they had no confidence in her continuing in the job because they didn't 
believe she could change what they called the "good old boy" culture at 
the agency. A White House spokesman declined at the time to say if she 
still had the confidence of President Barack Obama.

Ms. Leonhart is leaving at a time of shake-ups in the top ranks of the 
Justice Department. The head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms 
and Explosives recently left his position, and Attorney General Eric 
Holder is likely to leave his job any day, as lawmakers said Tuesday 
they had ended a deadlock over a piece of legislation that had been 
holding up a floor vote on the nomination of his intended successor, 
Loretta Lynch.
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