The director of the U.S. Secret Service said the agency’s prostitution scandal in Colombia is an isolated incident, a conclusion that lawmakers rejected as premature.
“This is not a cultural issue,” Mark Sullivan, the agency’s director, said at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing today. “This is not a systemic issue with us.”
Sullivan’s appearance was the first time he has publicly answered questions about allegations that a dozen employees may have consorted with prostitutes last month while preparing security before President Barack Obama visited Cartagena, Colombia for a summit. The episode sparked the Secret Service’s worst crisis outside of a president’s assassination.
Secret Service records revealed 64 complaints of employee sexual misconduct, including three alleged instances of an inappropriate relationship with a foreigner, said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who is chairman of the committee. Most of the complaints involved sexually explicit e-mails or material on a government computer, he said.
Sullivan should “assume what happened in Cartagena isn’t an isolated incident,” Lieberman told reporters after the hearing.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the panel’s top Republican, joined Lieberman in questioning whether the allegations indicate systemic misconduct.
Collins told reporters that Sullivan doesn’t have a basis for concluding what happened in the country is unique. Collins also said she is concerned because two of the employees involved were supervisors with a combined 43 years experience.
Nine Secret Service employees have either left the agency or are in the process of being dismissed as a result of the allegations.
In another case related to prostitution, Sullivan said that an on-duty Secret Service employee in Washington solicited sex from an undercover police officer in 2008.
Collins said at the hearing that she is concerned about the findings of a recent agency employee survey showing that about 60 percent would report misconduct and about 20 percent wouldn’t.
Sullivan said “we need to raise up” the number of employees willing to come forward.
Charles K. Edwards, the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, said at the hearing that he is conducting a review of the agency’s investigation and his own independent probe.