Sen. Ron Johnson: Secret Service allegations are evidence of ‘systemic’ problem

Updated at 4 p.m.

Three Secret Service agents responsible for protecting President Obama in Amsterdam this week were sent home and put on administrative leave Sunday after going out for a night of drinking, according to three people familiar with the incident.

One of the agents was found drunk and passed out in a hotel hallway, the people said. The hotel staff alerted the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands after finding the unconscious agent Sunday morning, a day before Obama arrived in the country, according to two of the people. The embassy then alerted Secret Service managers on the presidential trip, which included the agency’s director, Julia Pierson.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed Tuesday evening that the agency “did send three employees home for disciplinary reasons” and that they were put on administrative leave pending an investigation. Donovan declined to comment further. Allegations that three members of the U.S. Secret Service got drunk while in the Netherlands ranged from outrage to muted unhappiness on Wednesday.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is not happy.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is not happy.

“Almost two years after the sordid events in Cartagena, Colombia, involving United States Secret Service personnel, I remain unconvinced that the behavior exhibited in Cartagena, at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, and this week in Amsterdam does not represent a greater systemic or cultural problem within an agency tasked with protecting vital U.S. officials, secrets, and national security," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in a lengthy statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

Johnson, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee,  outlined investigations he helped oversee following previous allegations of misbehavior by Secret Service agents, including the scandal in Cartagena, Colombia in April 2012, in which a dozen agents and officers brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms before the president’s arrival for an economic summit. The revelations in Cartagena led to the removal of 10 agents and spawned several federal and congressional investigations

“It is essential that the culture and behavior within the United States Secret Service be beyond reproach to ensure that the agency has the credibility and integrity to fulfill its vitally important national security function.” Johnson said.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security committee, said the latest incident "shows that the report (after the Columbia incident) was a cover-up and a whitewash. There are significant cultural problems there that need to be addressed. Systemic problems."

Rep. Jason E. Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee's subcommittee on national security, said that these allegations are the latest evidence of what he described as a deep-seated, systemic problem within the agency.

"There is no room for error in the Secret Service and there should be zero tolerance. This is not an agency where you can mess around," he said, later adding: "There is a cultural problem. There is an attitude of arrogance that leads some (Secret Service agents) to believe they're above the law. ... You've got to weed the bad apples out. And not enough changes were made after Cartagena, that's my fear."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who also on the Senate oversight panel, was far more guarded about the revelations. "I admire and respect [Secret Service agents] but every organization has got to make sure that there is a standard of conduct," he said. "Those that don't meet that standard have got to be punished." Asked if he believes the latest allegations are evidence of a systemic problem in the governance of the Secret Service, McCain said he doesn't know enough about the current situation to draw that conclusion. "We've had some (previous issues) in the past, but I don't know enough about the secret service to make that conclusion," he said.

Others members of the Senate and House committees declined to comment on the new allegations, or said little -- adding that they are awaiting more information.

In a statement, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del,) chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said he has requested more information about the incident.

"Chairman Carper is troubled by the reports regarding the behavior of a few Secret Service agents serving on the President's detail in the Netherlands," said a committee spokesperson in the statement. "Chairman Carper has been in touch with the head of the Secret Service and has requested more information about this incident. The Chairman and his staff continue to monitor the situation."

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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