- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
In a fast-developing story, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has been named as the diplomat accused of soliciting “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to State Department documents obtained by NBC News. Gutman denied the allegations, in a statement to The Cable and other outlets.
“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said. “At no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”
Gutman came under the spotlight on Monday after CBS obtained an internal memo from the department’s inspector general detailing eight examples of alleged misconduct by staff or contractors ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an “underground drug ring.” The report also alleged that the agency tried to cover up instances of misconduct, something State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called “preposterous.”
According to one veteran Brussels reporter speaking to The Cable, Gutman “is something of a legend here.” He’s known as “the American guy who goes to shitty little Belgian towns even Belgians haven’t heard of,” in an effort to strengthen ties with the locals. “He’s pretty much always on Belgian TV apparently.”
Speaking of the two allegations — solicitation of prostitutes and minors — the source said: “The first charge is unsurprising in ‘like, whatever’ Belgium. But the second is shocking and out-of-character if proved.” He said the ambassador is known for his “sharp and wicked humor.”
“[He] lives in a gigantic pad between Royal Palace and Parliament,” the source said. “Florid reception room, which I imagine gets a lot of use — could easily hold 100.”
Gutman is also a big supporter of President Obama. Formerly a Washington lawyer, Gutman bundled at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign committee and $275,000 for his inauguration committee, according to Open Secrets.
After allegations of Gutman’s misconduct arose, the ambassador was called back to Washington to meet Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but kept his job.
According to the New York Post, which also obtained State Department memos, Kennedy ordered the investigation ceased. Kennedy, in a statement to The Cable, denied allegations that he inhibited the State Department investigation.
“The Foreign Service has been my life for over forty years and through several Secretaries of State,” he said. “I have always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing. In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees-no matter their rank-are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation.”
On Monday, Psaki announced that the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security requested a “review by outside, experienced law enforcement offices … to make expert assessments about our current procedures.”
The allegations surfaced with claims by Aurelia Fedensin, a former investigator with the State Department’s internal watchdog agency, who told CBS that higher ranking State Department officials discouraged allegations of misconduct. “We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went was very disturbing.”
On Monday, a State Department official told The Cable that investigations sometimes result in disciplinary actions that aren’t made public. At a briefing, Psaki said the department “would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation,” Psaki said.
Republican Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement Monday saying he was “appalled” at the alleged misconduct. “The notion that any or all of the cases contained in news reports would not be investigated thoroughly by the Department is unthinkable,” he said.