WASHINGTON - The prostitution scandal at the Secret Service claimed its first casualties Wednesday as the agency announced three agents are leaving the service as separate US government investigations were under way. The tawdry episode took a sharp political turn when presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he would fire the agents involved.
The Secret Service did not identify the three agents leaving the government or eight more it said are on administrative leave. In a statement, it said one supervisor was allowed to retire and another will be fired for cause. A third employee, who was not a supervisor, has resigned.
The agents were implicated in the prostitution scandal in Colombia that also involved about 10 members of the military and as many as 20 women. All the Secret Service employees involved had security clearances revoked.
“These are the first steps,’’ said Representative Peter King, a New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service. King said the agency’s director, Mark Sullivan, took employment action against “the three people he believes the case was clearest against.’’
King said the agent set to be fired would sue. King said Sullivan had to follow collective bargaining rules but was “moving as quickly as he can. Once he feels the facts are clear, he’s going to move.’’
The scandal, which has become an embarrassment for the Obama administration, erupted last week after 11 Secret Service agents were sent home from Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, after a night of partying that reportedly ended with some of them bringing prostitutes back to their hotel. The special agents and uniformed officers were in Colombia in advance of President Obama’s arrival.
In Washington and Colombia, separate US government investigations were already underway. King said he has assigned four congressional investigators to the inquiry. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, sought details of the Secret Service investigation, including the disciplinary histories of the agents involved. Secret Service investigators are in Colombia interviewing witnesses.
In a letter to Sullivan, Issa and Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the agents “brought foreign nationals in contact with sensitive security information.’’ A potential security breach has been among the concerns raised by members of Congress.
The incident occurred before Obama arrived and was at a different hotel than the one the president stayed in.
New details of the sordid night emerged Wednesday. A 24-year-old self-described prostitute told The New York Times that she met an agent at a discotheque in Cartagena and after a night of drinking, the pair agreed the agent would pay her $800 for sex at the hotel. The next morning, when the front desk called because the woman had not left, the pair argued over the price.
“I tell him, ‘Baby, my cash money,’ ’’ the woman told the newspaper in an interview in Colombia. She said the two argued after the agent initially offered to pay her about $30 and the situation escalated, eventually ending with Colombian law enforcement involved. She said she was eventually paid about $225.
Romney told radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that “I’d clean house’’ at the Secret Service.
“The right thing to do is to remove people who have violated the public trust and have put their play 5/8time and their personal interests ahead of the interests of the nation,’’ Romney said.
While Romney suggested to Ingraham that a leadership problem led to the scandal, he told a Columbus, Ohio, radio station earlier that he has confidence in Sullivan, the head of the agency.
“I believe the right corrective action will be taken there and obviously everyone is very, very disappointed,’’ Romney said. “I think it will be dealt with [in] as aggressive a way as is possible given the requirements of the law.’’
When asked, the Romney campaign would not say whether he had been briefed on the situation or was relying on media reports for details.
At least 10 military personnel who were at the hotel are also being investigated for misconduct.
Two US military officials have said they include five Army Green Berets. One said the group includes two Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians, two Marine dog handlers, and an Air Force airman.