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Homeland Security official takes leave amid sexual harassment allegations


Suzanne Barr, chief of the staff of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A top aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has stepped aside after department officials received new allegations that she made lewd and sexually charged comments to subordinates. 

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Suzanne Barr, the chief of the staff of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has "voluntary placed herself on leave" pending the outcome of a review by Homeland Security's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, department spokesman Brian Hale said in a statement. 

The move comes a day after lawyers for James Hayes, the director of the ICE office in New York, sent government lawyers sworn affidavits from two ICE officials describing allegedly improper conduct by Barr. 

The affidavits were intended to back up claims Hayes has made in an explosive lawsuit accusing Napolitano and Homeland Security of gender discrimination for ousting him from a top job in Washington and retaliating when he filed a complaint. The affidavits alleged that Barr created a "frat-house type atmosphere" at ICE "that is targeted to humiliate and intimidate male employees." 

In one of the affidavits, which was obtained by NBC News, an ICE official identified as a former assistant attache in Colombia, describes a party at the house of the deputy chief of mission in Bogota during which Barr offered to perform a sexual act on him. In another affidavit, an ICE official describes being present at a meeting in Barr's office in which she made sexually lewd comments about another ICE employee. (The names of the ICE officials who signed the affidavits are blacked out in the versions supplied to NBC News.) 

Hale, the ICE spokesman, last week called Hayes' lawsuit "unfounded." In Wednesday's statement, Hale said about the affidavits, "These allegations are being made in connection with ongoing litigation. ICE will respond directly and strongly to this lawsuit in court as is appropriate."