DEA chief Michele Leonhart to step down next month, Holder confirms

DEA chief Michele Leonhart to step down next month, Holder confirms
Michele Leonhart became head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2007. Above, Leonhart in 2013. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart, who has been at odds with Congress over her handling of a scandal involving agents patronizing prostitutes overseas, will leave her post in May, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Tuesday.

Leonhart has also clashed with President Obama over the administration's marijuana policy.


Her departure will clear the way for incoming Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as soon as this week, to work with a new administrator to bring about change at the law enforcement agency.

Last year, Leonhart gave what she thought was an off-the-record speech to sheriffs in which she was critical of the president's remark during an interview that marijuana was no more harmful than alcohol, and of the trend toward legalization generally.

More recently, she and her department have been criticized by members of Congress from both parties for not immediately disciplining agents who purportedly had "sex parties" with prostitutes in Colombia and elsewhere.

Leonhart, a career DEA agent who started in law enforcement as a Baltimore police officer, has run the agency since 2007. She was special agent in charge of the DEA's Los Angeles field division from 1998 to 2003.

Despite the problems with her recent tenure, Holder was effusive in his statement announcing her retirement.

"Over the past decade, under her leadership, there have been innumerable instances of the DEA dismantling the most violent and most significant drug trafficking organizations and holding accountable the largest drug kingpins around the world," Holder said.

Republicans were not sorry to see her go.

"Over the past few weeks, the House Judiciary Committee's oversight has revealed systemic problems in the disciplinary process at the Drug Enforcement Administration that have permeated several levels of management," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). "I believe a change in leadership at the DEA is warranted."

He said the House Judiciary Committee would continue its investigation of DEA misconduct.

"Leadership at the DEA must crack down on bad behavior so that trust is rebuilt with the American people," he said.

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