Secret Service Head Backs Agent Firings, Lawmaker Says
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan was so upset by allegations that 11 agents and officers consorted with prostitutes in Colombia that he voiced frustration over government rules barring their immediate dismissal, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings said.
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 President Barack Obama was set to arrive for the Summit of the Americas, said Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Secret Service spokesman Ed 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.
Two Secret Service employees involved in the episode have left the agency and a third is in the process of being dismissed. The eight others are on administrative leave with their security clearances suspended as pressure built in Congress all of the agents to be fired.
At least 10 members of the military also were involved and the Pentagon 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.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed doubt that any Secret Service agent implicated in the prostitution scandal could keep his job after having “brought disgrace” on the agency.
“I don’t see how those who were involved in this would be able to continue in their work,” the California Democrat told reporters. “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 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 told reporters, calling the episode “one of the most egregious breaches of judgment by any standard.”
Representative Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican who’s chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said in an e-mailed statement that Sullivan assured him the agency is “well under way to take appropriate action.”
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 today.
“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.”
Obama has been regularly updated on the investigation, Carney said at a briefing.
The Secret Service announced yesterday that one supervisory employee was allowed to retire and another has been “proposed for removal for cause,” which requires a 30-day notice and opportunity to respond. A non-supervisory employee resigned.
Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which is providing legal representation for the Secret Service employees, said the group’s lawyers “will continue to exhaust all resources to represent and defend our members in response to the personnel actions taken.”
More details of the Secret Service’s own investigation came to light yesterday. 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 planning polygraph examinations as part of the investigation, McCaul said. Some of the agents contend they didn’t know they were consorting with prostitutes, he said.
The agency’s investigators are looking at videotape of the hotel lobby and are interviewing hotel workers, the women involved and agency employees still in Colombia.