Michele Leonhart has resigned as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. Leonhart's departure comes after widespread criticism over her response to a prostitution scandal and disagreement with the White House over the handling of marijuana enforcement.
During an appearance before the House Oversight Committee on April 14, Leonhart faced aggressive questioning over the punishment imposed on agents who were found to be engaging in “sex parties” in Colombia with prostitutes that were funded by drug cartels. Expressing displeasure that the agents were given suspensions of between two and 10 days and did not lose their positions or security clearance, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina asked, “What would it take to get fired at the DEA? The DEA agents I used to work with were worried about using their cars to pick up dry-cleaning.”
While the prostitution scandal has dominated the recent discussion around Leonhart's leadership, she has also made plain her dissatisfaction with President Obama’s positions on the treatment of marijuana under the law. From the New York Times:
During a closed-door speech to law enforcement officials last year, [Leonhart] reportedly criticized the president for having said in an interview with the New Yorker that marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol.
Even as Mr. Obama has expressed guarded support for allowing states including Colorado and Washington to experiment with legalizing marijuana, Ms. Leonhart has remained a staunch opponent. She refused during a 2012 hearing on Capitol Hill to say whether she believed that marijuana was less dangerous than crack cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin, saying that “all illegal drugs are bad.”
Leonhart has led the DEA since 2007, serving first as acting administrator until her confirmation in 2010. In his statement, Attorney General Holder thanked Leonhart for “her 35 years of extraordinary service to the DEA, the Department of Justice, and the American people ... I wish my good friend Michele all the best as she embarks on this next chapter in what is a remarkable life.”