Two more U.S. Secret Service agents are resigning over a Colombia prostitution scandal, the agency said on Tuesday, as it sought to close a chapter in its worst case of alleged misconduct in decades.
Even as the Secret Service announced the fates of all of the remaining employees under investigation, President Barack Obama defended those tasked with protecting him, saying a “couple of knuckleheads” should not discredit the entire agency.
“What these guys were thinking, I don’t know. That’s why they’re not there anymore,” Obama said nearly two weeks after the incident in Colombia that embarrassed the U.S. government and raised questions about the agency’s insular culture.
U.S. security men assigned to guard Obama are alleged to have engaged in a night of partying and carousing that ended up with them bringing prostitutes to their hotels just before the president’s arrival for a summit in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena this month.
The Secret Service said two more agents were quitting over the scandal in addition to the six who have already left their jobs. Another agent has had his security clearance revoked and will be terminated if that is made permanent.
Three others have been cleared of “serious misconduct.”
Tuesday’s announcement accounted for the 12 Secret Service members who have been under investigation, but 12 U.S. military personnel also face possible discipline in a separate probe.
The men are alleged to have taken as many as 21 prostitutes back to their hotels in Cartagena on the night of April 11-12.
“The Secret Service is committed to conducting a full, thorough and fair investigation in this matter, and will not hesitate to take appropriate action should any additional information come to light,” Peter Morrissey, the agency’s assistant director, said in a statement.
At the same time, there are signs of a widening scope of a congressional review that could keep the controversy brewing.
Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said “whistleblower people” had called his office with allegations about past misconduct by Secret Service personnel and “we’re beginning to talk to them.”
The scandal, the latest election-year headache for Obama, has led some critics to accuse the agency of a deeper cultural problem, even as the White House has insisted that president retains confidence in its director, Mark Sullivan.
Separately, the Washington Post reported that some Secret Service employees accused of misconduct in the case privately believe their conduct did not warrant dismissal because senior managers tolerated similar behavior during official trips, according to people familiar with the employees’ thinking.
The report also said several of those who had agreed to resign last week are also considering reversing their decisions and fighting to keep their jobs, according to the sources, who were not identified.
OBAMA AGAIN ADDRESSES SCANDAL
Obama, who has said he would be “angry” if the accusations are proven true, appeared to play down the extent of the scandal that has engulfed the Secret Service.
He insisted, during a taping of an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” program while on a visit to North Carolina, that “99.9 percent” of Secret Service agents put their lives on the line and did an “incredible” job.
“A couple of knuckleheads shouldn’t detract from, you know, what they do,” he said, addressing the matter in public for only the second time since he did so at the Summit of the Americas.
Lieberman nevertheless plans hearings on the scandal in the near future. “When we’re ready, we’ll go public,” the independent senator, told reporters of the investigation.
“Some of it seems credible, or at least worth investigating more,” he said. A committee aide said just one call from a whistleblower had been received so far.
Lieberman said the focus of his committee’s probe would not be events in Cartagena, which is being investigated by the Secret Service, but any incidents in recent years.
“I want to ask questions about whether there was any other evidence of misconduct by Secret Service agents in the last five or 10 years,” he said.
“If so, what was done about it? Could something have been done to have prevented what happened in Cartagena? And now that it has happened, what do they intend to do?”
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters