Obama backs Secret Service director amid scandal

Hayley Peterson

President Obama still has confidence in Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan even as new details emerge from the agency's investigation into a prostitution scandal involving nearly two dozen American agents and military personnel and as many foreign women in Colombia.

"The president has confidence in the director of the Secret Service," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, rebutting calls for Sullivan's resignation. "Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident and he's overseeing an investigation as we speak into the matter."

Investigators say 11 Secret Service agents and at least nine military personnel last week invited as many as 21 Colombian prostitutes back to their Cartagena hotel, where the Americans were supposed to be making security arrangements for President Obama's arrival the next day.

The night of boozing and prostitution involved two senior agents who are paid top-level government salaries of at least $110,000, according to members of Congress who were briefed by Sullivan.

Senior military officials said they were embarrassed by the incident.

"We let the boss down," said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to Obama. "I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs: We're embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we're not sure exactly what it is."

Details of the federally-funded romp began leaking out last Thursday morning, when one of the American agents was overheard arguing with a woman in the hotel over how much money he owed her. The agents allegedly paid $60 apiece to the strip club Pleyclub to bring the women back to the Hotel Caribe, where they were staying. The agent refused to pay what the prostitute was demanding and she reported him to the police.

Eleven Secret Service agents believed to be involved in the incident were quickly flown home from Cartagena, placed on administrative leave and had their top-secret security clearances revoked. The agents will continue receiving pay until the investigation is completed, according to the agency.

The military and the House Homeland Security Committee are conducting separate investigations into the allegations.

"These individuals will be held accountable," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

The House committee is focusing its investigation on whether the incident compromised the president's security, Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said Tuesday.

"This story is as old as mankind, where you have enemies using women to go into a security zone and try to obtain secret information. ... It was the height of irresponsibility to allow anyone into that zone of security," King said on MSNBC.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the incident reveals a "pattern of misbehavior."

But the president believes "strongly" that this was an isolated incident and that the behavior of Secret Service agents remains "exemplary," Carney said.

"We need to see what the investigation reveals," Carney said. "We're not going to speculate about the conclusions it might reach."

The scandal overshadowed Obama's trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, which went smoothly and without incident though it wasn't as productive as officials had hoped it would be.

Timeline of a scandal
Thursday - Secret Service orders 11 agents home from Cartagena, Columbia, after it is revealed that they consorted with prostitutes while making security arrangements for President Obama's trip. They were put on paid leave.
Friday - Obama arrives in Columbia for Summit of the Americas meeting with more than 30 world leaders.
Saturday - Pentagon's Southern Command reports that five military personnel supporting the Secret Service in Columbia may have been involved with the prostitutes.
Sunday - As he prepared to leave Columbia, Obama said he was "angry" about the episode and called for a full investigation.
Monday - Pentagon announces that nine service members, nearly twice as many as previously thought, were involved with prostitutes.
Tuesday - Investigators said as many as 21 Colombian prostitutes were brought back to the hotel by the Americans.


View article comments Leave a comment