Lawmakers expect Secret Service may oust more agents

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2012 6:29 PM
Lawmakers expect Secret Service may oust more agents

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior lawmakers expect more Secret Service agents could be forced out of their jobs soon over allegations of misconduct with prostitutes in Colombia, joining the three employees who have already left.

Representative Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings predicted on Thursday there would be more fallout from the scandal surrounding a night of partying by Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel last week in the coastal city of Cartegena just before President Barack Obama arrived for the weekend Summit of the Americas.

The incident embarrassed the United States and overshadowed Obama's participation in the summit. It may be the worst scandal in modern times for the agency tasked with protecting the U.S. president and other senior officials and figures.

Eleven Secret Service agents and 10 U.S. military personnel allegedly took as many as 21 women back to their beachfront hotel. They were discovered when one woman complained about money, resulting in the local police getting involved.

The Secret Service said on Wednesday one supervisor was allowed to retire, another supervisor was proposed for removal for cause, and a third employee resigned over the allegations. The other eight Secret Service employees under investigation may also go, Issa said on Thursday.

"At the least, they will be reprimanded, dealt with administratively. At the most, they will depart. That's really something the investigation will decide," Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told reporters outside the House.

"It would not surprise me if there were within the next few days additional resignations or firings," said Cummings, the top committee Democrat. Both Cummings and Issa have been briefed by Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who receives Secret Service protection, has condemned the alleged misconduct, telling radio host Laura Ingraham that "I'd clean house". But he expressed confidence in Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.

"The right thing to do is to remove people who have violated the public trust and have put their play time and their personal interests ahead of the interests of the nation," Romney said.

A Secret Service official did not expect any announcements on Thursday. "We have eight other employees that are involved in an investigation that will be thorough," the official said.

The three Secret Service employees who left the agency on Wednesday included two supervisors who were "GS-14s," the opening level of management in the federal government employment scale. Issa said such supervisors made roughly $80,000 a year, plus bonuses and per diems.

The eight Secret Service employees who remain under investigation continue to be on administrative leave with their security clearances suspended, and they face lie-detector tests about what happened in Colombia.

CONGRESSIONAL PROBES

Issa said that people who "feigned innocence" were the ones that "are going through a process to verify their stories." Another lawmaker, Republican Peter King, has said that some of the agents say that they did not know the women they brought back to the hotel were prostitutes.

The U.S. military is conducting its own probe of the incident, which happened overnight from Wednesday to Thursday. Obama arrived on Friday.

At least four congressional committees are looking into what happened in Cartagena. But none so far has announced hearings into the matter.

The top Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed disgust with the scandal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the alleged behavior was "stupid," and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called it a "disgrace."

Issa said one concern that had still not been eliminated was whether non-Americans had come into contact with sensitive security information, such as presidential itineraries the agents may have had.

The agents involved in the scandal had arrived in Cartagena with the plane that brings the presidential vehicles, a government source said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated on Thursday that Obama still had "confidence" in Sullivan. There is also considerable support for Sullivan on Capitol Hill, partly because he reacted quickly, bringing the agents home on Thursday as soon as the scandal was exposed.

"My view is that if you know what needs to happen to fix something, you should stay and fix it," Issa said of Sullivan.

"Do we have any indication that there were previous signs (that this sort of thing was going on) that were reported to him? Not at this time," Issa said.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Peter Cooney)