WASHINGTON - The US Secret Service in the last 2 1/2 years has received no misconduct complaints similar to those about some personnel ahead of President Obama’s recent trip to Colombia, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers Wednesday.
“There was nothing in the record to suggest that this behavior would happen, and it really was, I think, a huge disappointment to the men and women of the Secret Service,’’ Napolitano said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, noting that the agency has provided protection during more than 900 foreign trips and more than 13,000 domestic trips in the period reviewed.
The findings by the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility that no similar complaints were lodged would appear to contradict comments by some employees ousted in recent days because of the scandal. They privately contend that their conduct did not warrant dismissal because senior managers tolerated similar behavior during official trips.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that people close to the accused employees said that in an effort to fight for their jobs, the ousted employees might opt to divulge details of how colleagues spent some of their downtime on presidential trips: drinking heavily, visiting strip clubs, and cavorting with women for hire.
During the hearing, Napolitano said Secret Service director Mark Sullivan continued to have Obama’s support, and she assured lawmakers that Sullivan’s investigation “will be complete and thorough.’’
“We will not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the proud legacy of the Secret Service, an agency that has served numerous presidents and whose men and women execute their mission with great professionalism, honor, and integrity every single day,’’ Napolitano said. “I have nothing but respect for these men and women, many of whom put their lives at risk for the president and many other public leaders.’’
The secretary testified at a hearing focused on general oversight issues at the Department of Homeland Security that was scheduled long before the scandal broke. Beyond general questions about the ongoing probe, senators asked Napolitano mostly about the Obama administration’s immigration and cybersecurity policy and concerns about the Transportation Security Administration. The judiciary panel maintains primary jurisdiction over immigration and the Secret Service, but shares oversight of the sprawling department with other House and Senate panels.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, voiced support for Sullivan’s investigation, adding: “Nobody wants to see the president’s security compromised. Nobody wants to see America embarrassed.’’
But Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s ranking Republican, pushed again for Obama to permit the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to independently determine whether White House personnel either knew about or were involved in the sex scandal.
“I want to know if the investigation involved pulling any hotel records in Colombia or whether we are to simply take the White House at their word,’’ Grassley said in his prepared testimony. “This is not a fishing expedition; it is a logical extension of the Secret Service investigation.’’
Under questioning by Leahy, Napolitano said she pressed Sullivan in the early hours of his investigation to ensure that Obama’s security was never at risk, to promptly begin an investigation, and to determine what, if any, changes needed to be made to ensure such behavior did not occur again. To that end, Napolitano said, the agency is considering making changes to its code of conduct and training programs.
Separately, Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who has kept in close touch with Sullivan, said Tuesday that the agency is considering enforcing a curfew when agents and officers are on the road.