U.S. lawmakers said they expect more Secret Service employees to leave amid a widening investigation of a prostitution scandal involving agents sent to Colombia ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama.
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said they expect the investigation to extend beyond the six Secret Service employees who left.
“I would expect within a very near future to have several other Secret Service agents leaving the agency,” King said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday.
The Secret Service and Congress are investigating an incident involving agents who allegedly consorted with prostitutes at their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, while preparing security for Obama’s visit there. The incident raised questions in Congress about whether it was a lone incident or a glimpse of broader misconduct that might have put the president’s security at risk.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said he believes the prostitution scandal is an isolated incident, not evidence of agency-wide problems.
“What we’re seeing is an aberration,” Coburn said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “This is an outlier for the Secret Service, and I think we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Dispute Over Fee
The misconduct was discovered after a prostitute refused to leave a Secret Service agent’s hotel because of a dispute over her fee. The woman, whose identity hasn’t been disclosed, told the New York Times that the agent offered her $30, less than she expected, after she spent the night with him.
Three Secret Service employees resigned April 20, bringing to six the number the agency has said are leaving voluntarily or being forced out, Paul S. Morrissey, a Secret Service assistant director, said in an April 20 statement.
“I think we have some bad actors here,” Cummings said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “I don’t think that we judge the Secret Service by its weakest link.”
During television appearances yesterday, lawmakers from both political parties expressed support for Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service.
Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he had “great confidence” that Sullivan will prevent more such incidents.
“Obviously nobody believes that something with 11 or 12 people involved couldn’t have happened before,” Issa said on NBC. “The real point is will we have confidence that it will never happen again, particularly foreign nationals having access to our men and women in the Secret Service. That’s the important part that the director is working on.”
Obama has been briefed on the investigation, according to an administration official who wasn’t authorized to speak about a private meeting. The Defense Department is conducting a separate probe involving its personnel.
Obama’s campaign strategist David Axelrod said the president continues to have confidence in Sullivan.
“I must say in my experience the Secret Service has been completely professional,” Axelrod said on CNN. “I always felt like they were willing to do anything to protect the president and the people around the president, and so this was really disappointing.”
White House Staff
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said he plans to hold hearings into the matter. He said he has no indication that anyone at the White House staff engaged in inappropriate behavior in Colombia.
“Obviously, a Secret Service agent has a different range of responsibility than somebody on the White House advance team,” Lieberman said on CBS. “On the other hand, if we’re worried about compromising through sexual favors, the security of the president of the United States, the White House advance team, obviously, knows exactly where the president’s going to be at every moment.”
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, praised Paula Reid, the head of the Secret Service detail in Latin America, on ABC’s “This Week” program. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Reid ordered the agents and officers out of Colombia after learning of the alleged misconduct.
“She acted decisively, appropriately, and I can’t help but wonder if there’d been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened,” Collins said.
The scandal may indicate a need for more women in the Secret Service, said Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, on the same program. She said 11 percent of its agents are women.
“I can’t help but keep asking this question, where are the women?” Maloney said. “We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”