WASHINGTON — The Secret Service prostitution scandal escalated Tuesday with the disclosure that at least 20 women had been in hotel rooms with U.S. agents and military personnel just before President Barack Obama arrived for a summit with Latin American leaders. The head of the Secret Service said he had referred the matter to an independent government investigator.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, shuttling between briefings for lawmakers on Capitol Hill, was peppered with questions about whether the women had access to sensitive information that could have jeopardized Obama’s security.
Sullivan said the 11 Secret Service agents and 10 military personnel under investigation were telling different stories about who the women were. Sullivan has dispatched more investigators to Colombia to interview the women, said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Some are admitting (the women) were prostitutes, others are saying they’re not, they’re just women they met at the hotel bar,” King said. Sullivan said none of the women, who had to surrender their IDs at the hotel, were minors. “But prostitutes or not, to be bringing a foreign national back into a secure zone is a problem.”
King said it appeared the agency had “really lucked out.” If the women were working for a terrorist organization or other anti-American group, King said, they could have had access to information about the president’s whereabouts or security protocols while in the agents’ rooms..
At the White House, Obama was asked whether he believed Sullivan should resign. The president ignored the shouted inquiries; his spokesman later said Obama had confidence in the Secret Service chief.
“Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation as we speak into the matter,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
On Thursday, 11 Secret Service agents were recalled to the U.S. from Colombia and placed on administrative leave after a night of partying that allegedly ended with at least some bringing prostitutes back to their hotel.
On Monday, the agency announced that it also had revoked the agents’ security clearances.
At least 10 U.S. military personnel staying at the same hotel were also being investigated for their role in the incident.