Secret Service says three employees to leave over Colombia scandal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three U.S. Secret Service employees under investigation for alleged misconduct with prostitutes in Colombia before a trip by President Barack Obama are leaving their jobs, the agency said on Wednesday.
They were among 11 Secret Service agents and 10 U.S. military personnel who allegedly took as many as 21 women back to their hotel virtually on the eve of Obama's weekend trip to Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas.
"Although the Secret Service's investigation into allegations of misconduct by its employees in Cartagena, Colombia, is in its early stages, and is still ongoing, three of the individuals involved will separate or are in the process of separating from the agency," Assistant Director Paul Morrissey said in a statement.
One supervisor was allowed to retire, another supervisor was proposed for removal for cause, and a third employee resigned in what may be the worst scandal in modern times for the agency tasked with protecting the U.S. president and other senior officials and figures.
The remaining eight Secret Service employees under investigation continue to be on administrative leave with their security clearances suspended, and face lie-detector tests about what happened in Colombia, the agency said.
"The Secret Service continues to conduct a full, thorough and fair investigation, utilizing all investigative techniques available to our agency," the statement said. "This includes polygraph examinations, interviews with the employees involved, and witness interviews, to include interviews being conducted by our Office of Professional Responsibility in Cartagena, Colombia."
The U.S. military is conducting its own probe of the incident, which happened overnight from Wednesday to Thursday. It embarrassed the United States and overshadowed Obama's participation in the summit.
The Americans brought prostitutes to their beachfront hotel before Obama arrived for the summit, according to a local police source in Colombia. They were discovered when one woman complained about money, resulting in the hotel manager and local police getting involved.
The military service members being investigated are two Marine dog handlers, five Army Special Forces members, two Navy explosive-ordnance experts and one Air Force member, a U.S. official said.
The Secret Service and the U.S. military have investigators in Colombia interviewing the women, U.S. officials have said.
U.S. lawmakers are also probing what happened, and on Wednesday a U.S. House of Representatives committee asked the Secret Service to give a detailed description by May 1 of alleged misconduct by its agents.
Although the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested the information, the panel was likely to have "very few if any" public hearings on the matter, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, told reporters.
Issa noted that the Secret Service was already investigating and "they are likely to be more harsh to their own people than we would be."
Much of the information that the House panel might unearth should not be made public because of the nature of the Secret Service's work, he added.
At least three other congressional committees are looking into the scandal but no one has announced any hearings.
Issa and the ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, wrote to Secret Service director Mark Sullivan asking for "a detailed description" of the misconduct, as well as an accounting of all U.S. government personnel who were involved in or knew about the alleged misconduct, and a timeline of the agency's response.
They also asked for summaries of any disciplinary actions taken against the agents involved since 2002, and what steps the agency intended to take to prevent a recurrence.
The incident in Cartagena "raised questions about the agency's culture," lawmakers said in the letter.
It "is troubling because Secret Service agents and officers made a range of bad decisions, from drinking too much, to engaging with prostitutes, to bringing foreign nationals into contact with sensitive security information, to exposing themselves to blackmail and other forms of potential compromise."
Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said she told Sullivan she found it hard to believe the episode was the only one of its kind, because "there were too many people involved."
"He said they were scrubbing the files and looking at whether there were any hints that there had been previous incidents," Collins told reporters separately.
Collins, spoke to Sullivan about the episode on Monday and Tuesday, when she pressed him to look into the files.
"Think of all the missions and countries that the Secret Service visits in advance of the president's trips," she said.
"I think they should look at disciplinary records, at whether supervisors were - had admonished (them) even informally," she said. "My instinct is that this was not one-time."
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Paul Simao)