I don't have a strong opinion on Colombian hookers. The after-hours wonts of a 25-year-old White House volunteer make no difference to me. There are bigger stories better suited for the word "scandal" than the 2012 drinking-and-carousing embarrassment that cost 10 Secret Service agents their jobs.

But I don't like government cover-ups, favoritism, and nepotism—all of which are exposed in the latest Washington Post investigation of the U.S. Secret Service. The story by Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura ("White House Knew of Possible Tie to Cartagena") also hints at a rift between the president's political and security teams that makes me worry about the safety of Barack Obama and future presidents.

As nearly two dozen Secret Service agents and members of the military were punished or fired following a 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia, Obama administration officials repeatedly denied that anyone from the White House was involved.

But new details drawn from government documents and interviews show that senior White House aides were given information at the time suggesting that a prostitute was an overnight guest in the hotel room of a presidential advance-team member—yet that information was never thoroughly investigated or publicly acknowledged.

Resist the temptation to laugh or roll your eyes at the story's salacious details. Consider why it matters.

The White House didn't tell the truth. Small children are taught that any lie is bad, even a small one, because it infects the whole of their credibility. Same goes for the White House, particularly when the public's faith in President Obama's word is already in free-fall due to an epidemic of half-truths ("Violent protest outside of our embassy—sparked by this hateful video"), empty promises ("No one will take away" your health care plan), and outright lies ("Not wittingly").

Leonnig and Nakamura build a credible case against White House contentions that nobody from the West Wing was involved in the April 14, 2012, incident. The Secret Service twice shared evidence suggesting that Jonathan Dach was involved in the wrongdoing, including hotel records and first-hand accounts. A lead government investigator told Senate staffers that he felt pressure from superiors to withhold evidence because a link to the White House—even one this tenuous—would be "potentially embarrassing to the administration."

Dach has denied he was involved. And dismissing the story, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said on Twitter it would be "absurd" to think that the White House would risk so much to cover for an advance-team volunteer. That's a weak defense, because the Obama White House is known to overzealously defend its reputation against the tiniest slights. It's entirely believable that Obama's public-relation's team—the Keystone Cops of crisis management—went heavy on the whitewash.

Merit, not nepotism, should lead to White House work. Dach's father, Leslie Dach, is a respected Democratic operative-turned-donor who gave $23,900 to the Democratic Party in 2008 to help elect Obama. He worked closely with the White House while serving as Wal-Mart's top lobbyist and now works at the Health and Human Services Department, where he is helping to implement Obamacare. The younger Dach is a Yale law student—no doubt a bright kid. But the country is full of bright kids who would volunteer for White House road trips.

The White House played favorites in the investigation. Nepotism in hiring is one thing. Favoritism is another, perhaps worse, sin, particularly when the investigation and punishment reek of elitism. This is how The Post describes the White House's handling of Dach's involvement. 

The information that the Secret Service shared with the White House included hotel records and firsthand accounts—the same types of evidence the agency and military relied on to determine who in their ranks was involved "¦

The [Dach] inquiry conducted by White House officials was less extensive than those undertaken by Secret Service and Pentagon officials, according to several government officials familiar with the probes. Those agencies had devoted considerable resources to their investigations, conducting extensive interviews and sending teams to Colombia for more than two weeks to track down and interview prostitutes and hotel staff members.

The Secret Service also administered multiple polygraph tests to each of the agents, asking whether they had brought prostitutes to their rooms and paid for services, according to several agents and federal records.

Blake Hounshell, editorial director of Politico, captured the disparity in this tweet:

A breach of trust between the Secret Service and the White House could be dangerous. The relationship between the president and the people who would die to protect him is fraught with complexity. The agency works for the president, but the president must heed Secret Service protocols.

It only works—the president is only safe—if there is mutual trust. The president must harbor no doubts that the agency is doing everything possible to keep him safe, and that everything the agents see and hear will remain confidential. The agents must know that the president has their backs. From The Post's story:

Former and current Secret Service agents said they are angry at the White House's public insistence that none of its team members were involved and its private decision to not fully investigate one of its own—while their colleagues had their careers ruined or hampered.

Ten members of the Secret Service—ranging from younger, lower-level officers assigned to rope-line security to seasoned members of a counterassault team—lost their jobs because of their actions in Cartagena. The agents were told that they jeopardized national security by drinking excessively and having contact with foreign nationals.

They were treated "radically differently by different parts of the same executive branch," said Larry Berger, a lawyer who represented many of the agents, who were union members of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

It's one thing to lose the public's trust. Messing with the bond between a president and the Secret Service is outright dangerous—and could set a precedent that outlasts Obama. That's why this isn't just about hookers.

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