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New questions for White House as Secret Service scandal unfolds

Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along lawn on north side of White House on Sept. 20, 2014

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Two years after a prostitution scandal rocked the Secret Service, a Republican congressman renewed allegations Thursday about possible involvement by a White House volunteer and said he smelled efforts to cover it up.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has been investigating the Secret Service as chairman of a House oversight subcommittee, told the Associated Press that the White House had new questions to answer in light of information he had received from Secret Service whistleblowers, as well as from a report in Thursday's Washington Post.

"The immediate question for the White House is whether or not they're going to share the information they have with the Congress," said the Utah Republican. He said the White House had never explained how officials had been able to clear the volunteer of wrongdoing in its own investigation.

CBS News' Major Garrett reports that the Obama White House denies a cover-up, especially the charge leveled by government investigator David Nieland that political pressure hobbled the prostitution probe.

A bipartisan Senate committee in April also rejected the accusation of a cover-up, saying it found no evidence to "substantiate" that orders were given "to remove information that could have been embarrassing to [the Department of Homeland Security] and/or to the Obama Administration in an election year."

At issue is President Obama's trip to Cartagena, Colombia, in the spring of 2012 for the Summit of the Americas. Before it ended, the trip was overshadowed by news that some Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel setting up security ahead of Obama's arrival had hired local prostitutes and brought them back to their hotel rooms.

Around two dozen people were implicated, and more than a half-dozen Secret Service agents were subsequently fired. Others were disciplined.

It has long been known a White House travel office volunteer was implicated in the Cartagena prostitution scandal. What wasn't known was the name, which the Washington Post reported on Thursday: Jonathan Dach, son of prominent Democratic donor and former Wal-Mart lobbyist Leslie Dach.

A White House investigation cleared Dach of wrongdoing but never disclosed his name, in part because he was a volunteer and not a salaried White House staffer. Dach has long denied any improper conduct.

Asked about the ordeal Thursday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One that the White House review found "no corroborating evidence" to indicate that Dach had brought a prostitute to his room.

Having survived the scandal, he now works at the State Department, where he works as an adviser in its Office of Global Women's Issues.

Richard Sauber, a Washington lawyer representing Dach, said the allegations "don't ring true" and are not supported by records about Dach's movements while in Cartagena.

Chaffetz noted that Dach's father, Leslie Dach, is a major Democratic donor. Schultz said the father's position had no impact on the investigation.

Campaign records show Leslie Dach, a former executive for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., contributed at least $28,000 to Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party in 2008, and an additional $20,000 to help Obama's re-election effort four years later. He is now a senior adviser at the Health and Human Services Department.

In 2012, the White House denied any involvement in the Cartagena incident by White House staff. And when a Department of Homeland Security inspector general investigation some months later turned up a hotel record indicating a White House advance team volunteer on the trip had hosted a prostitute in his hotel room, the White House disputed it and said the hotel log was wrong.

Chaffetz said Thursday that new details he's received from Secret Service whistleblowers, and information reported Thursday in the Post, seemed to provide additional evidence. That included corporate records from Dach's Cartagena hotel suggesting the man had an overnight guest.

Chaffetz also said that officials in the inspector general's office alleged they were discouraged from pursuing questions related to White House involvement and in some cases were put on leave when they did.

"All signs point to a cover-up, but I want to give the White House a chance to explain itself," Chaffetz said. He promised hearings.

The White House dismissed the allegations as thoroughly investigated old news.

"As was reported more than two years ago, the White House conducted an internal review that did not identify any inappropriate behavior on the part of the White House advance team," Schultz said. "And of course there was no White House interference with an (inspector general) investigation."

The proposals come as lawmakers assess how to improve the Secret Service after a series of scandals, including a recent incident in which a man wielding a knife jumped the fence and ran into the White House. The agency's director, Julia Pierson, resigned amid the controversy, but lawmakers are promising they'll continue their focus once Congress reconvenes after the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

Unlike some of the earlier incidents, where Republicans and Democrats joined together to criticize the Secret Service, the Cartagena case has the potential to provoke partisan clashes on Capitol Hill and create political problems for Obama.

Another potential headache for the White House involves the role of Kathy Ruemmler, the former White House counsel and a leading contender to be Obama's next attorney general.

Schultz said Ruemmler conducted the Cartagena review in a "careful, thorough way."