In briefings in recent weeks, lawmakers said they learned details about other incidents — including a case in Washington in 2008 in which a uniformed Secret Service officer driving an agency vehicle attempted to pick up an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.
After listening to testimony from Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, who offered profuse apologies and acknowledged that his employees did “some really dumb things” on the trip to Cartagena, the top-ranking Republican lawmaker on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Sullivan does not understand the scope of his agency’s dysfunction.
Sullivan “has a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that he has a broader problem than just this one incident,” said Sen. Susan Collins (Maine).
“He kept saying over and over again that he basically does think this is an isolated incident, and I don’t think he has any basis for that conclusion,” she added.
Twelve Secret Service employees were implicated in the events in Cartagena after supervisors learned they had brought local women back to their hotel rooms. At least eight employees were forced to resign or retire, but at least four are now fighting their dismissals.
Several agents said that sexual encounters with women abroad are routine and that management condones them.
At the hearing Wednesday, Sullivan disputed that notion, denying under questioning that the situation in mid-April was part of a larger pattern of heavy drinking and sexual encounters during presidential trips. He also dismissed as “absurd” reports by The Washington Post that tolerance of inappropriate conduct is part of a culture that some employees call the “Secret Circus.”
“I’ve worked for a lot of men and women in this organization, and I never one time had any supervisor or any other agent tell me that this type of behavior is condoned,” Sullivan told the panel. “I know I’ve never told any of our employees that it’s condoned.”
At the same hearing, however, the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security — the umbrella agency that includes the Secret Service — said his inquiry will expand to not just review
how the agency investigated itself but also the broader culture of the agency.
Members of the committee described an alarming pattern of misconduct at the agency that had been reported over the years.
Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) pressed Sullivan and Inspector General Charles K. Edwards for details of 64 misconduct allegations made against the Secret Service in the past five years. They include allegations against employees regarding non-consensual sex and soliciting prostitutes. An earlier incident involved hotel parties with underage girls during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.