The Secret Service Scandal Is Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Obama arriving in Cartagena on Friday. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images) Photo: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/2012 AFP

New details have emerged in what yesterday's Washington Post described as "the biggest scandal in Secret Service history." As of now, reports indicate that eleven Secret Service members (as opposed to the initial count of twelve) have been placed on administrative leave following accusations of prostitute-related misconduct in Colombia. Additionally, five members of the U.S. military have been grounded ("confined to quarters") as investigators look into the possibility that they were also involved in "inappropriate" activities with a group of women in the same hotel as the recalled agents and officers. As was reported yesterday, the trouble started as a result of a Secret Service member's apparent reluctance to pay for the time he spent with a prostitute in Cartagena, where his team was doing advance work related to Barack Obama's Friday arrival there for the Summit of the Americas.  Representative Peter T. King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Times this supposedly went down: 

The violation came to light, Mr. King said, because under the hotel’s policy, guests of people staying there must leave their identification at the front desk and leave by 7 a.m. On Thursday morning, he said, a hotel manager realized that one of the women had not left and went to the agent’s room to ask her to leave.

The agent is said to have not let the manager in, whereupon a Colombian police officer went to the room. Inside, the woman complained that the agent had not paid her. Eventually the agent did pay her, and she is said to have left without further incident, Mr. King said.        

However, other officials are telling a slightly more dramatic tale, involving an "argument or altercation" that attracted the attention of the police. As is often the case with this sort of thing, some of the men seem to be claiming that they were not aware that the women they were with expected to be paid. One senior official told the Times, "'There are people who willingly went to prostitutes and other people who ended up with prostitutes ... Either way, it’s just unacceptable." 

Meanwhile, Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, thinks this is just the tip of the iceberg. On this morning's episode of Face the Nation, the congressman seemed to predict an even wider scandal: “The investigation will not be about the 11 to 20 or more involved, it will be about how has this happened, and how often has this happened before. Things like this don’t happen once.” He added that, while this particular incident may not have directly placed the president in danger, it left Secret Service members open to the risk of becoming "victim of their own misconduct" via future blackmail, which could affect the safety of those under their protection. The White House is still staying mostly quiet on the matter; press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday that the news "has not" been a distraction for the president.