WASHINGTON — Conflicting portraits of the Secret Service emerged Wednesday on Capitol Hill as senators challenged Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to reconcile the image of agents who protect the life of America's president with the dozen officers and supervisors implicated in a humiliating prostitution scandal.
Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the incident in Colombia involving as many as 20 women and a dozen military personnel appeared to be an isolated one. She said the agency's office of professional responsibility had not received any complaints in the past 2½ years. She said investigators are reviewing earlier time periods as well.
"This behavior was not part of the Secret Service way of doing business," Napolitano testified. "We are going to make sure that standards and training, if they need to be tightened up, they are tightened."
The White House said Wednesday that the conduct of the employees punished in the ongoing scandal was "inappropriate" and unacceptable for people representing the United States abroad.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pressed Napolitano about whether she thought this was the first incident involving prostitutes and the Secret Service.
"The only reason I suggest that we need to maybe look a little harder is because we're lucky to have found out about this. If there hadn't been an argument between one of the agents and, I guess, a prostitute, for lack of a better word, about money, we'd probably have never known about this," Graham said.
Napolitano said that while she was not aware of a broader culture problem at the Secret Service, director Mark Sullivan and his investigators are looking into it.
"What the director is doing is reviewing training, supervision, going back and talking to other agents, really trying to ferret out if this is a systemic problem," Napolitano said. "If it is, that would be a surprise to me."
Napolitano said the government is also reviewing training rules for Secret Service employees to make clear what behavior is acceptable and what's unacceptable.
Graham told Napolitano that the Secret Service officers and supervisors involved should have known their conduct was wrong: "I don't think it's a lack of training."
Wednesday was the first time Napolitano has faced public questioning from lawmakers since the scandal became public.
The Secret Service announced late Tuesday that all 12 implicated officers had been dealt with: Eight were forced out, one was stripped of his security clearance and three were cleared of wrongdoing, all within two weeks of the night in question.
Napolitano said the Homeland Security inspector general is also supervising the investigation.