WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Secret Service testifies for the first time Wednesday about the humiliating prostitution scandal in Colombia that tarnished his historic agency's image. Congress wants to know whether the incident was an isolated case or a pattern of bad behavior.
But don't expect lawmakers to demand Mark Sullivan's walking papers.
At a time when Republicans and Democrats agree on few matters, they appear united on letting Sullivan keep his job. The Secret Service boss ousted many of the supervisors, officers and agents in the scandal last month, allowed the Homeland Security Department's inspector general to monitor his own investigation and kept key lawmakers in the loop.
The White House on Wednesday reasserted its confidence in Sullivan. President Barack Obama "has great faith in the Secret Service, believes the director has done an excellent job," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "The director moved very quickly to have this matter investigated and took action very quickly as a result of that investigation."
Wednesday's session marks the first time that Sullivan, testifying with Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards, will publicly discuss the sordid affair, which became public after a morning-after argument April 12 between a Secret Service agent and a prostitute over payment for her services at a Cartagena hotel. The Secret Service was in the Colombian coastal resort in preparation for a Latin American summit.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee is the first congressional committee to organize an oversight hearing, and its chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., was expected to frame it tightly around one question: Was the cavorting with prostitutes and rampant drinking a lone incident or agency tradition in far-flung locales? Lieberman told reporters Tuesday that his committee received details from the agency that raise questions about whether the Secret Service "had reason to see this coming." He declined to be more specific.
A dozen Secret Service officers and supervisors and 12 other U.S. military personnel were implicated. Eight Secret Service employees, including two supervisors, have lost their jobs. The Secret Service is moving to permanently revoke the security clearance for one other employee, and three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but Sullivan quickly issued new guidelines that made it clear that agents on assignment overseas are subject to U.S. laws.
Should he make the case that it was a lone incident, Sullivan is likely to face some skepticism from the committee and questions about how he ruled out the possibility of more parties. Interviews with Republican and Democratic senators in the six weeks since the incident have revealed suspicions that the party in Cartagena wasn't isolated.
Senators on the Judiciary Committee appeared skeptical last month when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano suggested that evidence of other such parties would be a surprise to her.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said: "I will give the director the benefit of the doubt and listen to his testimony."
The day after Napolitano's testimony in April, a Seattle television station reported that a similar incident took place during a presidential trip to El Salvador last year. Napolitano has said there's no evidence to support that allegation. There also have been reports of other incidents, some dating back to the Clinton administration.
This week the Drug Enforcement Administration said the Justice Department's inspector general is investigating possible misconduct by two or more DEA agents in Colombia. That probe is unrelated to the Secret Service scandal, but is based on information provided to the DEA by the Secret Service.
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