In his first Congressional testimony about the Secret Service prostitution scandal, the agency’s director faced a grilling from skeptical Senators who raised concerns that the conduct seemed prevalent and accepted among agents and supervisors.
Nonetheless, Director Mark Sullivan left the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing room with his job intact Wednesday, as the committee’s top two Members declared that, despite his defensiveness, they have confidence in his leadership.
Still, the scandal doesn’t appear to be dying down anytime soon. Four Secret Service agents who were dismissed following an internal investigation are now suing the agency, and revelations have come to light that two Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Cartagena, Colombia, may have hired prostitutes in a separate incident, according to published reports.
At least a dozen Secret Service agents solicited prostitutes in Cartagena in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit there for an international conference on the Americas. A few military personnel have also been implicated in the scandal.
Sullivan told Senators that the April incident was an anomaly in an agency full of trustworthy agents.
“I’ve been part of this organization for 29 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” he said. “The notion that this type of behavior is condoned or authorized is just absurd.”
But Homeland Security ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) seemed to imply in her questioning that Sullivan was either naive or in denial about a widespread cultural problem in the Secret Service.
After the hearing, Collins told reporters she was “disturbed” by Sullivan’s repeated assertion that the Colombia romp was an isolated incident, despite reports and indications to the contrary.
“I think that the director is a very fine individual who is very proud of his own career — understandably so — and of the agency that he heads,” Collins said. “Therefore I think he has a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that he has a broader problem than just this one incident.”
At the hearing, Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) revealed that there have been 64 reports of sexual misconduct in the Secret Service in the past five years, with most coming from people sending sexually explicit messages or material from government computers. However, there was at least one complaint of “nonconsensual sex.”
Lieberman said the only way Sullivan can address the problem is to come to terms with it.
“This is like a wound to a body, and we’ve got to get in it, find out what happened and clean it out and then let it heal,” he said.