WASHINGTON — The director of the Secret Service publicly apologized for the first time Wednesday for a prostitution scandal that has rocked his agency as senior lawmakers strongly disputed his insistence that what unfolded last month in Cartagena, Colombia, occurred in isolation.
Part of the lawmakers' skepticism stemmed from fresh information they shared at the hearing, including allegations against Secret Service employees regarding nonconsensual sex, soliciting prostitutes on the streets of Washington and hotel parties with underage women during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Mark Sullivan told a Senate panel, "I am deeply disappointed, and I apologize for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction that it has caused." Putting it more bluntly later, Sullivan said the employees involved "did some really dumb things."
But under questioning, Sullivan refused to say that the mid April incident was part of a broader agency culture that condones heavy drinking, partying and sex during the off-hours of security assignments.
Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said evidence suggests that the scandal that unfolded in the hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Cartagena for a summit was part of a pattern.
Sullivan "has a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that he has a broader problem than just this one incident," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the panel's ranking Republican, said after the hearing.
Still, Collins, committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and other senators said Sullivan should remain as director.
Lieberman pressed Sullivan and Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards during the hearing for details of 64 misconduct allegations against the Secret Service submitted in the past five years.
Lieberman said other misconduct cases involved employees who sent sexually explicit e-mails or other material on government computers and at least 30 cases involving alcohol or charges of driving under the influence.
Edwards said he is launching a separate, independent investigation that will involve interviews with the 12 employees implicated in the Colombia scandal. The new probe also will review whether Sullivan's internal investigation was rushed or whether the move to oust most of the men involved in the scandal was proper, the Washington Post reported.