The Cable

U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Denies Accusations He Had Sex With Minors

In a fast-developing story, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has been named as the diplomat accused of soliciting "sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children," according to State Department documents obtained by NBC News. Gutman denied the allegations, in a statement to The Cable and other outlets.

"I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating," he said. "At no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity."

Gutman came under the spotlight on Monday after CBS obtained an internal memo from the department's inspector general detailing eight examples of alleged misconduct by staff or contractors ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an "underground drug ring." The report also alleged that the agency tried to cover up instances of misconduct, something State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called "preposterous."

According to one veteran Brussels reporter speaking to The Cable, Gutman "is something of a legend here."  He's known as "the American guy who goes to shitty little Belgian towns even Belgians haven't heard of," in an effort to strengthen ties with the locals. "He's pretty much always on Belgian TV apparently."

Speaking of the two allegations -- solicitation of prostitutes and minors -- the source said: "The first charge is unsurprising in 'like, whatever' Belgium. But the second is shocking and out-of-character if proved." He said the ambassador is known for his "sharp and wicked humor."

"[He] lives in a gigantic pad between Royal Palace and Parliament," the source said. "Florid reception room, which I imagine gets a lot of use -- could easily hold 100."

Gutman is also a big supporter of President Obama. Formerly a Washington lawyer, Gutman bundled at least $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign committee and $275,000 for his inauguration committee, according to Open Secrets.

After allegations of Gutman's misconduct arose, the ambassador was called back to Washington to meet Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but kept his job.

According to the New York Post, which also obtained State Department memos, Kennedy ordered the investigation ceased. Kennedy, in a statement to The Cable, denied allegations that he inhibited the State Department investigation.

"The Foreign Service has been my life for over forty years and through several Secretaries of State," he said. "I have always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing.  In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees-no matter their rank-are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation." 

On Monday, Psaki announced that the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security requested a "review by outside, experienced law enforcement offices ... to make expert assessments about our current procedures."

The allegations surfaced with claims by Aurelia Fedensin, a former investigator with the State Department's internal watchdog agency, who told CBS that higher ranking State Department officials discouraged allegations of misconduct. "We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went was very disturbing."

On Monday, a State Department official told The Cable that investigations sometimes result in disciplinary actions that aren't made public. At a briefing, Psaki said the department "would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation," Psaki said.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement Monday saying he was "appalled" at the alleged misconduct. "The notion that any or all of the cases contained in news reports would not be investigated thoroughly by the Department is unthinkable," he said.

The Cable

Benghazi Target Dragged Into Prostitution Cover Up Scandal

It's been a tough few weeks for Patrick Kennedy.

Foggy Bottom's under secretary of state for management is under scrutiny once again. Kennedy's name has surfaced in news reports about an alleged State Department cover up of an ambassador who's accused of soliciting prostitutes. The reports come just two weeks after House investigators hit Kennedy with a subpoena for his role in the drafting of Benghazi talking points. Kennedy's role in this latest snafu is unclear. But a State Department official tells The Cable that Kennedy, who was been pilloried by House lawmakers since October, was not deeply involved.

On Monday, CBS News uncovered documents showing the State Department may have covered up allegations of misconduct by its employees ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an "underground drug ring." According to the CBS, an internal memo from the department's Inspector General says investigations into misconduct were "influenced, manipulated, or simply called off" by more senior State Department officials.

One of those investigations involved an unnamed ambassador accused of repeatedly soliciting prostitutes. Kennedy reportedly interviewed the ambassador, who promptly returned to his regular duties without being disciplined. Per CBS:

In one specific and striking cover-up, State Department agents told the Inspector General they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.

The State Department Inspector General's memo refers to the 2011 investigation into an ambassador who "routinely ditched ... his protective security detail" and inspectors suspect this was in order to "solicit sexual favors from prostitutes."

Sources told CBS News that after the allegations surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington, D.C. to meet with Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but was permitted to return to his post.

Downplaying Kennedy's role, a State Department official told The Cable that the under secretary is "not a central player in this at all." Update: In a statement to The Cable, Kennedy denied interfering into the investigation into the ambassador. "The Foreign Service has been my life for over forty years and through several Secretaries of State," he said. "I have always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing.  In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees-no matter their rank-are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation." A State Department official also passed along a statement by colleague Jen Psaki saying the department "will not comment about specific allegations of misconduct, internal investigations or personnel matters."

"Depending on the facts, an investigation may result in administrative action or criminal charges, or it may be concluded without further action," Psaki continued. "Not all allegations are substantiated. It goes without saying that the Department does not condone interference with investigations by any of its employees."

One of CBS' sources is Aurelia Fedensin, a former State Department investigator who was part of the team that drafted a report accusing high-ranking State Department officials of interfering with investigations. According to a copy of the report obtained by CBS,  such "hindering" of investigations into misconduct "calls into question the integrity of the investigative process, can result in counterintelligence vulnerabilities and can allow criminal behavior to continue."  That line was in the original Inspector General's report, but was later scrubbed from the final draft. Fedensin told CBS she showed a high-ranking security official her report and he said "This is going to kill us."

Needless to say, now is an unfortunate time for Kennedy's name to surface amid accusations of State Department wrongdoing. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) made plain that Kennedy is in his crosshairs by subpoenaing all of his e-mails related to the drafting of the Benghazi talking points that turned out to be erroneous in the days following last year's attack at the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

The White House already released around 100 pages of emails documenting the editing of the talking points, which gave no hint of wrongdoing by Kennedy. But Issa claims that paper trail was "incomplete," leaving him with" with no alternative but to compel the State Department to produce relevant documents through subpoena."

Issa and other conservatives maintain that the independent Accountability Review Board investigation, co-chaired by Amb. Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, failed to hold higher-level State Department officials, such as Kennedy, accountable for misdeeds. Pickering maintains that the investigation was thorough and adequate. A public committee hearing involving testimony from Pickering is expected, but not yet scheduled.