The sex scandal involving US Secret Service agents and prostitutes in a hotel in Colombia involved at least 20 foreign women, congressional officials say.
Us lawmakers are seeking information about any possible threat to the US or to President Barack Obama, who arrived for a conference soon after.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told lawmakers that 11 members of his agency met 11 women at a hotel in Cartagena, and more non-American females were involved with American military personnel. The presidential guard in the US comprises members of the Secret Service.
Obama and some important congressional Republicans, meanwhile, said they continued to support Sullivan.
“The president has confidence in the director of the Secret Service. Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation as we speak in to the matter,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Sullivan shuttled between meetings with lawmakers today, outlining what his investigators in Washington and in Colombia have discovered about the incident.
“Twenty or 21 women foreign nationals were brought to the hotel,” Senator Susan Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said Sullivan told her. Eleven of the Americans involved were Secret Service, she reported, and “allegedly Marines were involved with the rest”.
Meanwhile, Sullivan told the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that the 11 Secret Service agents and officers were telling different stories to investigators about who the women were. Sullivan has dispatched more investigators to Columbia to interview the women, said Republican Rep Peter King.
“Some are admitting (the women) were prostitutes; others are saying they’re not, they’re just women they met at the hotel bar,” King said. Sullivan said none of the women, who had to surrender their IDs at the hotel, were minors. “But prostitutes or not, to be bringing a foreign national back into a secure zone is a problem,” King said.
The scandal overshadowed Obama’s visit to a Latin America summit during the weekend and embarrassed top US military brass.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said that military members who are being investigated were assigned to support the Secret Service in preparation for Obama’s official visit to Cartagena. He said they were not directly involved in presidential security.
The Secret Service sent 11 of its members, a group including agents and uniformed officers, home from Colombia amid allegations that they had hired prostitutes at a Cartagena hotel. The military members being investigated were staying at the same hotel.
The Secret Service personnel were placed on administrative leave, and on Monday the agency announced that it also had revoked their security clearances.
King said it is not yet clear whether he will call hearings on the matter. He, too, said he is standing behind Sullivan.