Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies at a Senate Judiciary… (Susan Walsh / Associated…)
WASHINGTON — With eight Secret Service agents already forced out of the agency in the aftermath of a prostitution scandal, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee on Wednesday that investigators were trying to determine whether such conduct occurred on previous trips.
"Part of our investigation is confirming that this was an aberration — or not," Napolitano said during an oversight hearing called by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The eight Secret Service agents retired, resigned or were fired by the agency for their alleged misconduct in Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of President Obama's arrival for an international summit April 13. A ninth agent will have his security clearance permanently revoked, which would force him to leave the Secret Service unless he successfully appeals the decision.
Three other employees have been cleared of serious misconduct but still face “appropriate administrative action.”
Napolitano called the conduct "inexcusable," but said the president's security was never at risk. She said the investigation, being conducted by the Secret Service, is examining the question of "what do we need to do to tighten any standards that need to be tightened."
In the days since the scandal broke, the agency has not been able to say whether sexual liaisons with foreign women are explicitly prohibited by its code of conduct. Officials have said that patronizing prostitutes is not permitted, but some former agents questioned whether that applied in places where prostitution is legal, as it is in parts of Columbia, including Cartagena.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the inquiry should be taken over by the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security "to make this investigation impartial and credible."
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) countered that Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan "seems to be doing all that he can to ensure a timely and thorough investigation and accountability for behavior that failed to meet the standards he expects and that the president and the American people deserve."
"The Secret Service is committed to conducting a full, thorough and fair investigation in this matter, and will not hesitate to take appropriate action should any additional information come to light," assistant director Paul Morrissey said in a statement Tuesday.
The Pentagon is conducting a separate investigation of a dozen military personnel who were also allegedly involved.
An internal White House investigation found that no members of the presidential advance team had participated in wrongdoing. But the Pentagon also confirmed that an employee of the White House Communications Agency, a military unit that provides technical support for presidential travel, was under investigation.
Grassley called on the White House to disclose more about its review of the White House advance staff.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that the White House review was conducted out of due diligence.
"I would just point you to the fact that there is no credible, specific allegation of any misconduct by anybody on the White House advance team or White House staff."
Obama, speaking with NBC late-night talk host Jimmy Fallon earlier Tuesday, defended the "incredible" work the Secret Service does.
"A couple of knuckleheads shouldn't detract from that they do," he said. "What they were thinking, I don't know. That's why they're not there anymore."