Five U.S. military members have been ordered confined to quarters over possible involvement in inappropriate conduct at the same hotel here as the 11 Secret Service personnel sent home in an unfolding scandal involving local prostitutes.
Making the announcement Saturday, United States Southern Command commander Gen. Douglas Fraser said he is “disappointed by the entire incident and that this behavior is not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military.”
The Secret Service confirmed Saturday night that 11 of its staffers assigned to the trip have been placed on administrative leave as the investigation proceeds into dealings between prostitutes and U.S. government personnel preparing for President Barack Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia.
“The nature of the allegations, coupled with a zero tolerance policy on personal misconduct, resulted in the Secret Service taking the decisive action to relieve these individuals of their assignment” and send them home, Secret Service Assistant Director Paul Morrissey said in the agency’s most detailed statement to date.
“The personnel involved were brought to Secret Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C., for interviews today. These interviews have been completed,” Morrissey added. He called the administrative leave “standard procedure [that] allows us the opportunity to conduct a full, thorough and fair investigation into the allegations.”
Morrissey said some of the Secret Service personnel were special agents and some were part of the Service’s Uniformed Division, but none came from the Presidential Protective Division — the iconic plainclothes agents who shadow the president at his public events.
Earlier Saturday, the White House maintained its stance of refusing to comment on the scandal, even as word came that military personnel were also involved.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, in an on-camera briefing in Cartagena Saturday afternoon, said of the military personnel that “It is our understanding this is part of the same incident” as the Secret Service.
Carney confirmed that the White House was informed of the incident by the Secret Service on Thursday and that Obama was told about it Friday.
Asked whether the episode amounted to a distraction for the president, Carney said, “It has not. I think it’s been much more of a distraction for the press.”
Carney directed reporters’ questions to the Secret Service, declining even to say whether the White House was disappointed by the episode.
“I don’t have any characterization of this beyond my referral [of questions] to the Secret Service,” Carney said.
However, the Secret Service did express regret and acknowledge that it may have shifted the spotlight.
”We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused,” Morrissey said in his statement.
On Wednesday night, 11 special agents, including at least one supervisor, allegedly brought prostitutes back to the hotel where the president was expected to stay later in the week, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) told POLITICO earlier Saturday. King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, received a 15-minute briefing Saturday by an aide to Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. The hotel in Colombia required hotel guests to leave IDs at the front desk and leave by 7 a.m. the next morning, King said. When one of the women did not leave on time, the hotel manager went to the room, but the guests would not come out, he said, so the manager called the police.
The alleged prostitute told police she would not leave until she was paid, King said. The incident was resolved peacefully, but local police are required to file a report with the embassy any time they come in contact with a citizen of another country, King said.
The report to the embassy set off the broader investigation, although rumors of the evening had already spread to the Secret Service’s Miami office, which has jurisdiction over the summit’s security, King said.
“All of this happened very quickly,” he said. “The 11 guys were required to leave the country.”
King said he will first instruct his staff to do an investigation “to see if this is symptomatic of the Secret Service.”
“I don’t believe it is,” King said. “I have great regard for them. [Sullivan] moved very quickly on this, very quickly, very effectively.”
But, he added, “it definitely could have compromised the security of the president” by opening the agents to threats of blackmail.
King said he was not briefed on the alleged actions of the five U.S. military members.
Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter and author of the book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,” called the incident “the biggest scandal in Secret Service history.”
“It is all part of this pattern that I wrote about in the book of corner cutting, laxness, cover up,” Kessler said in an interview Saturday with POLITICO.
King said: “If this is the worst [scandal] they have, this is a pretty good agency.”