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Friday, September 30, 2022

Congress expands probe into Secret Service scandal

People walk past Hotel El Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia, late Thursday. (AP Photo/Pedro Mendoza)

Congressional committees are widening their investigations into an alleged U.S. Secret Service scandal involving prostitutes in Colombia ahead of a recent trip there by President Barack Obama.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee wants to determine whether what transpired “was an exception” or “a pattern of misconduct that has gone on elsewhere by Secret Service agents,” said committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

Lieberman, in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” said his panel was embarking on “a broader investigation” and would send the Secret Service detailed questions about the conduct of agents not only “on assignment, but off duty.”

And, Lieberman asked, “What’s the Secret Service going to do to make sure it never happens again?”

Across the Capitol, the House Homeland Security Committee has sent Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan a list of 50 specific questions, including a request for “a comprehensive, minute-by-minute timeline.”

“Every possible lead is being examined,” Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“What they were thinking is beyond me,” King added.

So far, the scandal involves 12 Secret Service employees and 11 members of the military.

Six of the Secret Service members have lost their jobs. One has been partially cleared and five remain on administrative leave.

The Secret Service has confirmed that one of the 12 implicated in the scandal had stayed at a different hotel in Cartagena than the others. He stayed at the Hilton, where Obama later would stay. The others stayed at the Hotel Caribe.

The agent is being investigated for improprieties in a separate incident that may have happened on April 9, days before the president arrived for a summit with other Western Hemisphere leaders that ended April 15 — and while the hotel was still open to the general public.

Lieberman, who also appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said his panel hopes to learn more about the activities of that 12th agent.

“Now we don’t know at this point what that 12th agent is being charged with and why he’s been put on administrative leave. But now you’re into the hotel where the president of the United States was going to stay. And it just gets more troubling,” Lieberman said.

Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said the allegations are disturbing, but that the misdeeds of a few individuals should not tarnish the overall work and reputation of the protective service.

Axelrod told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he always felt the agents were willing to go to great lengths to protect the president and the people around him. He called the conduct in Colombia “really disappointing.”

“I think we will get to the bottom of it,” said Axelrod, who worked at the White House before leaving last year to work full time in Obama’s re-election campaign office in Chicago.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a frequent critic of the president, declined to fault the administration’s response thus far. “I think what we’re seeing is an aberration,” he told CBS.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., both said on ABC’s “This Week” that more female Secret Service agents might help guard against such incidents from happening again. Maloney said that only 11 percent of Secret Service agents are women.

Collins said that the Secret Service told her there is no evidence that any of the alleged prostitutes were underage women.

Still, she asked, “What are Secret Service personnel doing bringing unknown foreign nationals to their rooms, regardless of their age?”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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