The head of the US Secret Service — in his first public appearance since a Colombian prostitution scandal involving his staff surfaced last month — issued an apology for the misconduct, as lawmakers expressed doubt it was an isolated incident.
Secret Service director Mark Sullivan, faced the Senate Homeland Security Committee and said the behaviour of a dozen employees in Cartagena in April did not reflect the culture of the agency.
But Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the committee, said a review of Secret Service records showed that over the past five years, there were 64 instances of “allegations or complaints concerning sexual misconduct ... against employees”.
In the biggest scandal to hit the agency, a dozen Secret Service employees were accused of misconduct for bringing women, some of them prostitutes, back to their hotel rooms in Colombia, ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama.
“I am deeply disappointed and I apologise for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction that it has caused,” Mr Sullivan said.
“Over the past several weeks, we have been under intense scrutiny as a result of this incident. To see the agency’s integrity called into question has not been easy.”
Mr Sullivan generally has been praised by lawmakers for acting swiftly and the White House has stood by him. None of the senators at the hearing called for him to step down.
However, Senator Susan Collins, the senior Republican on the committee, and others said they found it difficult to believe the misconduct was an isolated incident, and she faulted Mr Sullivan on that score.
“The only answer of his that disturbed me today was that he kept saying over and over again that he basically does think this is an isolated incident. I don’t think he has any basis for that conclusion,” she said.
Mr Lieberman said most of the 64 allegations or complaints of sexual misconduct in the past five years involved sexually explicit emails or sexually explicit material being sent on government computers.
But three incidents, he said, “involved charges of an inappropriate relationship with a foreign national and one was a complaint of nonconsensual sexual intercourse”.
Another incident involved a Secret Service employee soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover police officer.
Regarding the Colombia incident, Mr Sullivan said the actions of a few should not taint the whole agency and its roughly 7,000 staff. He pushed back on any suggestion such behaviour was considered acceptable.
A dozen US military personnel are also under investigation in connection with the Columbia scandal.
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