Pressure built in Congress for the Secret Service to fire the remaining agents and officers involved in a prostitution scandal in Colombia that may become an election-year distraction for lawmakers and the White House.
Democratic and Republican members of Congress were united in denouncing the episode involving 11 agents who were in the resort town of Cartagena preparing for President Barack Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas.
“I don’t see how those who were involved in this would be able to continue in their work,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters yesterday. “Those people who were responsible have brought disgrace and it’s disgusting.”
The fitness of any agent implicated in the episode is called into question because “everything in being a Secret Service agent is about judgment,” said Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “You have to have judgment, or the protected person is in danger,” he said, calling the episode “one of the most egregious breaches of judgment by any standard.”
Two Secret Service employees involved in the episode have left the agency and a third is in the process of being dismissed. One of the people being removed is Greg Stokes, a supervisor in the K-9 unit, said a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to speak about it publicly.
Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, declined to comment on the names of those involved. The Washington Post yesterday named two people who are leaving the agency, including Stokes.
Efforts last night to reach Lawrence Berger, general counsel of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association which is representing Stokes and the other Secret Service employees, were unsuccessful.
Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, declined last night to name the people involved and said he would call for a criminal investigation if all the names were released.
“This is an ongoing investigation and it is entirely inappropriate and unnecessary to disclose the names of the accused,” Adler said.
The eight other Secret Service employees are on administrative leave with their security clearances suspended.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King said he has been informed by people close to the investigation that more resignations may be forthcoming as early as today.
“I was told by people not to be surprised,” said King, a New York Republican.
The investigation has expanded beyond the 11 agents to other Secret Service employees who were in Colombia at the time of the incident and the hotels where they stayed, King said.
At least 10 members of the military also were implicated, and the Defense Department is conducting a separate investigation.
Reports about the misconduct overshadowed Obama’s appearance at the Summit of the Americas, which concluded April 15 and was supposed to focus on the economy, trade and U.S. engagement in Latin America. The agents were relieved of duty and sent back to the U.S. before Obama arrived in Colombia.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan was so upset by the incident that he voiced frustration over government rules barring their immediate dismissal, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings said.
‘On the Spot’
The Secret Service chief told Cummings during a one-hour meeting April 17 that “if it were up to him, every single one of them would have been fired on the spot,” the Democratic lawmaker told reporters.
Sullivan is “thoroughly convinced” that the agency’s security wasn’t compromised by the episode in the resort town of Cartagena just before Obama was set to arrive for the summit, said Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Donovan declined to comment on Cummings’s characterization of his conversation with Sullivan, saying “we have eight employees still in the process” of being investigated.
Obama retains confidence in Sullivan and wants to await the outcome of the service’s inquiry before making any judgments on the case, White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday.
“It is very much in the interest of everyone,” Carney said, “to allow this investigation to be completed before we make judgments on conclusions we don’t yet have.”
While most of the remarks by lawmakers focused on the Secret Service, there were signs that the incident, along with a financial scandal involving the General Services Administration, may play into the 2012 political campaign.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, asked about the scandals in an interview with syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham on April 18, said that he’d get rid of people who have “put their play time and their personal interest ahead of the interests of the nation.” He expressed confidence in the Secret Service.
Carney, responding to reporters’ questions yesterday, brushed aside comments by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama that the Secret Service case raised questions about Obama’s management of the executive branch.
“That sounds very much like a lawmaker attempting to politicize something that is not at all political,” Carney said.
More details of the Secret Service’s own investigation came to light on April 18. A prostitute told an agent she met in a nightclub before going to his hotel that her price for the evening was $800, said Texas Republican Representative Mike McCaul, the chairman of a House Homeland Security oversight subcommittee, whose staff was briefed by the Secret Service.
Later, the two got into a dispute over her demand to be paid.
The agents “didn’t indicate to her they were law enforcement or Secret Service agents,” McCaul said.
The Secret Service is giving polygraph examinations as part of the investigation, King said. Some of the agents contend they didn’t know they were consorting with prostitutes, he said.
All the employees have taken drug tests, King said. He said he wasn’t aware of any that were positive. Maids who cleaned the agents’ rooms didn’t find any drugs, he said.
The agency’s investigators are looking at videotape of the hotel lobby and are interviewing hotel workers and the women involved.