This story has been updated.
The U.S. Secret Service in the last two and a half years has received no misconduct complaints similar to those about personnel behavior ahead of President Obama’s recent trip to Colombia, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers Wednesday.
“There was nothing in the record to suggest that this behavior would happen and it really was, I think, a huge disappointment to the men and women of the Secret Service,” Napolitano said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, noting that the agency has provided protection during more than 900 foreign trips and more than 13,000 domestic trips in that period.
The secretary said the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility had reviewed complaints from the last two and half years and found no similar allegations of misconduct. Those findings would appear to contradict comments by some employees ousted in recent days because of the scandal, who are privately contending that their conduct didn’t warrant dismissal because senior managers tolerated similar behavior during official trips.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that people close to the accused employees said that in an effort to fight for their jobs, the ousted employees might opt to divulge details of how colleagues spent some of their downtime on presidential trips — drinking heavily, visiting strip clubs and cavorting with women for hire.
During the hearing, Napolitano said Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan continues to have Obama’s support and she assured lawmakers that his ongoing investigation “will be complete and thorough and we will leave no stone unturned.”
“We will not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the proud legacy of the Secret Service, an agency that has served numerous presidents and whose men and women execute their mission with great professionalism, honor and integrity every single day,” Napolitano said. “I have nothing but respect for these men and women, many of whom put their lives at risk for the president and many other public leaders.”
The secretary testified at a hearing focused on general oversight issues at the Department of Homeland Security that was scheduled long before the scandal broke. Beyond general questions about the ongoing probe, senators asked Napolitano mostly about the Obama administration’s immigration and cybersecurity policy and concerns about the Transportation Security Administration. The judiciary panel maintains primary jurisdiction over immigration and the Secret Service, but shares oversight of the sprawling department with other House and Senate panels.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also voiced support for Sullivan’s ongoing investigation, adding: “Nobody wants to see the president’s security compromised. Nobody wants to see America embarrassed.”
But Sen Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel’s ranking Republican, pushed again Wednesday for Obama to permit the DHS inspector general to independently determine whether White House personnel either knew about or were involved in the sex scandal.
“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 his prepared testimony. “This is not a fishing expedition; it is a logical extension of the Secret Service investigation.”
Under questioning by Leahy, Napolitano said she pressed Sullivan in the early hours of his investigation to ensure that Obama’s security was never at risk, to promptly begin an investigation and to determine what, if any, changes needed to be made to ensure such behavior didn’t occur again. To that end, Napolitano said the agency is considering making changes to its code of conduct and training programs.
Separately, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has kept in close touch with Sullivan, said Tuesday that the agency also is considering enforcing a curfew when agents and officers are on the road.
“If you give football players curfews, it makes sense you’d give curfews to people protecting the president,” Cummings said.
In separate developments, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Wednesday that the Secret Service is still working to interview an additional 50 people as part of its investigation.
And the Pentagon said it regretted that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was unsatisfied by a briefing by U.S. military officials about its ongoing probe. The Arizona senator said the officials had failed to provide a full briefing to him and other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the behavior of the 12 military personnel implicated in the scandal.
“Unfortunately, nearly two weeks after the events in Colombia, the briefers sent by the Department of Defense were woefully unprepared to answer even the most basic questions about what happened in Cartagena, and provided appallingly little new information other than the mechanics and timeline of the ongoing investigation,” McCain said in a statement. “The Department of Defense briefers did not even know the date the president arrived or the name of the senior military commander on the ground in Cartagena.”
McCain said he understands that the military must protect the rights of the service members under investigation, but “we in Congress, and particularly the Senate Armed Services Committee, must have timely access to factual information from the Pentagon in order to fulfill our national security oversight responsibilities.”
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This post has been updated since it was first published.