U.S. official acknowledges past Secret Service misconduct
“We have had employees that have engaged in misconduct,” the official said. “People make mistakes.”
He said it’s to be expected, given the 147-year history of the Secret Service. He said the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility dealt with the previous matters.
The official’s comments come amid new reports of misconduct by Secret Service personnel. A day after U.S. lawmakers were briefed on an alleged prostitution scandal in Colombia involving Secret Service members, a report emerged Thursday of similar allegations, this time in El Salvador.
Seattle TV station KIRO, a CNN affiliate, cited an unnamed U.S. government contractor who worked extensively with the Secret Service advance team in San Salvador prior to President Barack Obama’s trip there in March, 2011.
The source said he was with about a dozen Secret Service agents and a few U.S. military specialists at a strip club in the city a few days before Obama arrived, KIRO reported.
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The men drank heavily at the club, and most of them paid extra for access to a VIP section where they were provided sexual favors in return for cash, the source told the station.
KIRO said the owner of the strip club corroborated the allegations. The owner confirmed that a large number of agents, and some military escorts, “descended on his club” that week and were there at least three nights in a row, KIRO reported.
The owner said his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting agents from the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, KIRO said. The owner said his reputation for “security” and “privacy” makes his strip club popular with “those who want to be discreet.”
The government contractor source said he told the agents it was a “really bad idea” to take the strippers back to their hotel rooms, but several agents bragged that they “did this all the time” and “not to worry about it,” KIRO reported.
Responding to the KIRO report, Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said, “The recent investigation in Cartagena (Colombia) has generated several news stories that contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources. Any information brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner.”
KIRO investigative reporter Chris Halsne told CBS’s “This Morning” Thursday that he considers his source very credible because the source told him about the alleged scandal last year, while Halsne was in El Salvador on a different story.
Halsne said he pressed the source for details at the time, but the man refused to go on the record. After the Colombia allegations surfaced, Halsne again pressed his source, who then agreed to talk.
CNN cannot independently confirm the allegations.
Sen. John Cornyn — who serves on the Judiciary Committee, which was briefed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the Colombia scandal Wednesday — said he was concerned about the El Salvador allegations.
“It does concern me, and that’s why we need a thorough investigation, not just by the White House, not just by the (Department of Homeland Security), but by Congress,” said Cornyn, R-Texas.
“That’s part of our oversight responsibilities. I think it’s an obligation we owe to the American people and I’m confident we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Cornyn added.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, another Judiciary Committee member, disagreed and said Napolitano’s investigation needs to come first.
“After that, Congress should look into it and see what went wrong and what could be changed,” the New York Democrat said.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that an unnamed source said such behavior is part of the culture at the Secret Service and not a one-time occurrence.
The Secret Service said it has no comment on the Post story, but a Secret Service official, who was not authorized to comment on the continuing investigation, said, “It’s difficult for the Secret Service to defend against this,” referring to the Post’s article.
“The reaction by our leadership speaks for itself,” the official told CNN, referring to the Colombia incident. “Everyone was sent home. There’s an investigation. We have taken action regarding the agents.”
The alleged prostitution scandal in Colombia occurred before the president’s trip this month to a summit in Cartagena. Secret Service and U.S. military members are said to have consorted with prostitutes.
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Nine Secret Service members have resigned or are being forced out as a result of the scandal. A separate military investigation has yet to announce any measures against U.S. service members allegedly involved.
Two U.S. lawmakers said Wednesday they have heard reports of other incidents similar to those alleged to have happened in Colombia.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that since the Colombia scandal broke, several whistle-blowers have called his committee with what he called “credible” reports of other incidents.
Lieberman would not provide details but said he intends to hold a committee hearing focusing on potential Secret Service misconduct beyond what allegedly happened in Colombia.
Shortly after those comments, however, a committee spokesman said Lieberman had misspoken, and that the committee had received a call from just one person claiming to have information on possible misconduct.
But Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Tuesday that his committee has heard allegations of similar misconduct by Secret Service agents dating back years. Issa offered no specifics.