WASHINGTON (MCT) — President Barack Obama’s safety in Colombia wasn’t compromised because of a prostitution scandal that involved Secret Service and U.S. military personnel, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee Wednesday.
“That was my first question to (Secret Service Director Mark) Sullivan,” Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “and the answer is no. There was no risk to the president.”
Napolitano was gently peppered with questions by senators about whether the behavior of the Secret Service and U.S. military personnel with prostitutes at Cartagena’s Hotel Caribe days before Obama’s arrival in Colombia for the Summit of the Americas was symptomatic of problems within the agency that could harm its effectiveness in protecting the president and dignitaries.
“No one wants to see the president’s security compromised or America embarrassed,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., likened the behavior of the Secret Service agents involved in the sex scandal to the behavior of the soldiers who took the controversial pictures of humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
“Systems obviously failed then, and obviously there’s a system failure here,” he said.
Napolitano responded that investigators are trying to determine whether the situation in Colombia “was an aberration or not.”
She said Secret Service members are schooled in proper conduct through training and supervision. But she added that the agency is “looking at the standards, the training, the supervision, to see what, if anything, needs to be tightened up because, again, we don’t want this to be repeated.”
“Over the past 2 1/2 years, the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility has not recorded any such complaint,” Napolitano testified. “Over that period the Secret Service has provided protection to over 900 foreign trips and over 13,000 domestic trips.”
Twelve Secret Service employees and a dozen military members were implicated in the scandal, which came to light when a Secret Service employee got into an argument with one of the prostitutes over money. In the wake of an ongoing Secret Service investigation of the incident, eight employees, including two supervisors, have been fired, retired or resigned.
One Secret Service member has had his security clearance permanently revoked — which could lead to his firing — and three employees have been cleared of misconduct, though they still face some sort of administration action.
On the military side, Pentagon officials earlier this week suspended the security clearances of 11 military members for their possible roles in the sex scandal.
Meanwhile, the White House continued Wednesday balancing praise for the Secret Service for the job it does with condemnation of the actions of those involved in the sex scandal. Press secretary Jay Carney said Obama “believes that the actions of these individuals do not represent the service as a whole — 99 percent of the men and women who work for the Secret Service are absolute professionals.”
“Of course, he is angry, about what he made clear even on that Sunday in Colombia, was inappropriate behavior, behavior that is not acceptable for people who work for the U.S. government or representing the American people abroad,” Carney said of the president.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, echoed the administration’s sentiments, calling the sex scandal “a black eye for an agency full of hard-working and dedicated agents and officers.”
But he criticized the White House for conducting an internal investigation that found no misconduct among White House advance team staff members in Cartagena.
“I want to know if the investigation involved pulling any hotel records in Colombia or whether we are to simply take the White House at their word,” Grassley said in a written statement. “This is not a fishing expedition; it is a logical extension of the Secret Service investigation.”