Misconduct in Colombia varied, an inquiry finds

Published April 25, 2012

WASHINGTON — After the Secret Service scandal erupted nearly two weeks ago, the accusations of egregious behavior by the men entrusted with protecting President Barack Obama seemed clear-cut. Members of Congress and tabloids depicted a dozen agency employees meeting prostitutes in their hotel rooms and drunken revels at brothels or strip clubs involving up to 20 women.

But now, as the Secret Service pursues an inquiry involving interviews with hotel maids, the women involved and the roughly 200 agents and officers assigned to Obama's trip to Colombia, the investigators have pieced together a more nuanced story, complicating how the senior agency managers addressed the fates of their employees, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing two unnamed officials briefed on the findings.

The misconduct in Cartagena, Colombia, ranges from personnel — including at least one veteran supervisor — who knowingly took prostitutes to their hotel rooms to at least two employees who had encounters with women who investigators now believe were not prostitutes, one official said.

Another employee, who was cleared of serious misconduct but will face disciplinary action, had taken a woman to his hotel unaware that she was a prostitute until she demanded money, the official said. The man refused to pay and told her to leave, the official said.

On Tuesday, the Secret Service announced that two employees under scrutiny would remain with the agency, two had resigned and proceedings to dismiss another had begun. Of the dozen originally implicated, a total of three will remain; six have resigned; two have been dismissed; and one has retired.

"This scandal itself was the worst moment in the history of the Secret Service," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Tuesday. "But in the span of 12 days they have moved very quickly and aggressively on this," and will continue the inquiry to make sure that national security was not compromised.

The agency's investigation, which also included polygraph tests of the employees, has been conducted amid intense attention from the news media and Capitol Hill. The Secret Service also is looking into whether there has been a pattern of misconduct on presidential trips to foreign countries.

In North Carolina on Tuesday, Obama called the Secret Service agents caught in the scandal "a couple of knuckleheads" who did not reflect the overall professionalism of the agency.