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Secret Service left posts to guard director's assistant

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 5:57 p.m.
The South Portico of the White House in Washington on Friday, May 9, 2014. A bevy of solar panels blanketing the roof of the White House is getting its day in the sun. Technicians have finished installing the panels at the nation’s most famous address. The milestone completes a project that President Barack Obama hopes will send a clear signal that renewable energy is both feasible and environmentally shrewd. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service acknowledged on Sunday that patrol units conducted “welfare” checks at the home of an employee who feared for her safety in a neighborhood dispute, but the agency disputed a report that it had drawn investigative assets away from the White House.

Members of a Secret Service special unit responsible for patrolling near the White House were pulled off that assignment over at least two months in 2011 to protect the assistant of the agency's director while she was in a dispute with a neighbor, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Agents were told that the Secret Service director at the time, Mark Sullivan, was concerned that his assistant was being harassed by her neighbor, the Post reported in a story posted Saturday night on its website. The newspaper cited three people familiar with the operation but did not provide their names.

The agents were pulled from a surveillance team that patrols the outskirts of the White House compound and monitors the southern side of the executive mansion whenever crowds gather to watch the president and first family travel via motorcade or helicopter, the Post reported.

Agents inside the Washington field office were concerned that the diversion of agents increased security risks to the compound and the president, two people familiar with the discussion told the newspaper.

When asked to comment on the Post report, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan explained that daily patrols were sent to the employee's home during the 2011 Fourth of July weekend while the president was at Camp David.

Donovan said the units were drawn from the agency's so-called “Prowler” unit, which he said are not part of the White House's protective detail.

“A Washington field office vehicle, an investigative asset, was used to do these periodic checks,” Donovan said. “Because there were no protective assets used during these checks, there was no impact on protective operations.”

The patrols, according to the Post, went on for about two months at the rural Maryland home of Lisa Chopey, then an aide to Sullivan. Chopey could not be reached for comment.

The Secret Service, however, maintains that the patrols lasted only four days during the holiday weekend and involved brief “drive-by” checks on the employee's welfare.

“Prowler has no specific assignment or protective function during movements by any protectees,” Donovan said, adding that the units are often directed to interview suspects and assist other law enforcement officers.

“Prowler is not part of any protective plan,” he said.

Sullivan left the Secret Service in 2013. In a statement, Sullivan said a supervisor in his office authorized the visits to the assistant's home without his knowledge, that they lasted only a few days and that they were appropriate given the report of threats to an employee.

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