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Senate panel plans public hearing on Secret Service scandal

The Homeland Security Committee wants to explore whether the incident in Colombia was isolated, Sen. Joe Lieberman says.

April 23, 2012|By Katherine Skiba, Washington Bureau
  • U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) speaks with members of the media as Senate Democrats head to a weekly policy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) speaks with members of the media as Senate… (T.J. Kirkpatrick / Getty…)

WASHINGTON — The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold public hearings on the Secret Service sex scandal, Chairman Joe Lieberman said Sunday, to explore whether the incident in Colombia was isolated and what rules govern the conduct of agents who are on assignment but off-duty.

"From what we know about what happened in Cartagena, they were not acting like Secret Service agents," Lieberman (I-Conn.) told "Fox News Sunday." "They were acting like a bunch of college students away on spring weekend."

History is full of examples in which enemies have compromised intelligence agents with sex, Lieberman said, but there was no evidence that privileged information had been leaked in this case.

The scandal includes 12 Secret Service employees and 11 members of the military who came to Colombia to help secure government buildings and other facilities before President Obama arrived for the Summit of the Americas.

All but one of them reportedly stayed at the beachfront Hotel Caribe. Most of them apparently became involved in heavy drinking and carousing on the night of April 11, bringing as many as 21 women believed to be prostitutes into their hotel rooms. Early in the morning of April 12, Cartagena police responded to a disturbance, reportedly after one prostitute complained she had not been paid.

Six of the Secret Service members have lost their jobs. One has been cleared and five remain on administrative leave. The military is also investigating.

A Secret Service official confirmed Sunday that one of the agency's 12 employees was at a different hotel, the Hilton, where Obama eventually stayed. The official spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The 12th agent is being investigated for improprieties in a separate incident that may have happened on April 9, days before the president arrived and while the hotel was still open to the public, the Associated Press said.

"Now we don't know at this point what that 12th agent is being charged with and why he's been put on administrative leave," Lieberman told CBS' "Face the Nation." "But now you're into the hotel where the president of the United States was going to stay. And it just gets more troubling."

The top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, told ABC's "This Week" that it was unlikely the scandal was an isolated event.

"To me it defies belief that this was just an aberration," she said. "There were too many people involved. ... It included two supervisors. That is particularly shocking and appalling."

Collins and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said more female Secret Service agents might help prevent such incidents in the future.

"I can't help but wonder if there had been more women as part of that detail, if this ever would have happened," Collins told "This Week."

Maloney said on the same program that only 11% of Secret Service agents are women.

"I can't help but keeping asking this question: Where are the women?" Maloney said.

katherine.skiba@latimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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