It didn’t happen on 4/20 – marijuana’s high holy day – but Michele Leonhart is stepping down in mid-May as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.
“I want to express my appreciation to Michele, not only for her leadership of the DEA since 2007, but also for her 35 years of extraordinary service to the DEA, to the Department of Justice and to the American people,” Holder said in a statement.
CNN reported earlier on Tuesday the resignation was expected.
Obama administration officials long ago soured on Leonhart, a career DEA agent who broke ground at the agency when she rose into leadership as the first woman to head a field office. In recent years, she has angered the administration for appearing to resist federal rules relaxing enforcement on marijuana as states have moved to legalize the drug for medicinal and recreational use.
More recently, she came under fire for her poor performance in a congressional hearing on an inspector general report that found instances of DEA agents having sex parties in Colombia with prostitutes paid for by drug cartels. The report cited light punishments for the agents and Leonhart seemed at a loss about what she could do about it.
The top lawmakers of the House Oversight Committee, which Leonhart appeared before, issued a joint statement welcoming the news of her departure.
“In light of the DOJ Inspector General’s report and the testimony we heard before our committee, Ms. Leonhart’s resignation is the appropriate consequence,” said Republican chairman Jason Chaffetz and Democrat Elijah Cummings. “With the opportunity now for fresh leadership, we are hopeful that the DEA can restore itself to an agency of distinction and excellence.”
On Monday – 4/20 – word spread around Washington that Leonhart had met with Justice Department officials to discuss her departure and how to handle succession at the top of the agency. Officials had hoped to have her departure announced before Loretta Lynch, the attorney general nominee awaiting Senate confirmation, took office.
Leonhart was tapped by President George W. Bush in November 2007 to lead the agency in an acting capacity, and was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as administrator three years later.
Last Friday, Leonart sent an email to employees saying: “This has been a very difficult week for DEA, with members of Congress and the media asking tough questions and sharing our outrage about the disgraceful conduct of a few individuals several years ago. This employee misconduct has upset me for many reasons, but especially because it calls into question the incredible reputation DEA has built over more than 40 years.”
She ended the email: “I want to thank you for your continued expressions of trust and confidence as we navigate through these rough waters. I know you will remain focused on our mission and the commitment to excellence that is the hallmark of who we are, and what we will always be at DEA.”