WASHINGTON — A Homeland Security Department employee has acknowledged that he disclosed to The Associated Press days before the 2008 election that President Barack Obama’s aunt was living in the U.S. illegally and said he did not reveal the information for political reasons.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Professional Responsibility released a 20-page report from August 2010 about its investigation in the case. The Huffington Post reported on it Thursday.
The report said the employee, whose name was censored in publicly released versions of the report, told internal investigators that he confirmed Zeituni Onyango’s immigration status to the AP “because regardless of political affiliation … I think the American public has a right to know.”
Citing two separate unnamed sources, including one identified only as a federal law enforcement official, the AP disclosed in October 2008 that Onyango, a Kenya native, had been instructed to leave the United States in 2004 by a U.S. immigration judge who denied her asylum request.
The AP is continuing to withhold the names of its sources for the story. In a statement Thursday, AP spokesman Paul Colford said, “We never comment on our sources.”
The government’s investigation, which lasted nearly two years, was an early harbinger of the Obama administration’s aggressive approach tracking down leakers.
An immigration judge approved Onyango’s asylum request in 2010.
According to the investigative report, the employee denied discussing Onyango’s immigration status until May 2010. He initially told investigators he spoke with an AP reporter only about getting together socially. After acknowledging that he was AP’s source, the employee told investigators the decision was an “error in judgment.” He said, “I had no political motivations,” and told investigators that if he were trying to release information surreptitiously, he would have used a pay phone, not his office or cell phone. “I knew that would be a matter of record,” he said.
The investigation concluded that the employee improperly revealed Onyango’s immigration status, displayed a “lack of candor” with investigators, and misused government property by using an office telephone to disclose information to the AP.
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