WASHINGTON -- The Secret Service is investigating fresh allegations that agency officials cavorted with strippers and prostitutes ahead of President Obama's 2011 presidential trip to El Salvador, drawing new concerns from lawmakers that the agency has a broader cultural problem.
The agency acknowledged on Thursday that it's looking into allegations aired by Seattle's KIRO-TV, but emphasized that the report is the latest to "contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources." The alleged El Salvador incident occurred a year before reports that Secret Service agents used prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of a presidential trip this month.
"Any information that is brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner," Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said.
Based on interviews with an unnamed government contractor and a San Salvador strip club owner, KIRO-TV alleges that about a dozen Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel visited a San Salvador club a few days before Obama and his family arrived in El Salvador to meet with its new president, Mauricio Funes, in March 2011.
The report alleges that some Secret Service advance-team members paid extra for access to the VIP section of the club where they were provided sexual favors in return for cash, and at least two agents checked escorts into their hotel rooms. The owner also said his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, as well as visiting FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Secret Service scandal
The FBI and DEA issued separate statements Thursday noting the allegations and promising to take swift action if the report is proven to have merit. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said an inquiry has been made with the embassy in El Salvador.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said his personal view is that the Secret Service has a culture problem.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the committee, and Issa have called on Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to provide by May 1 summaries of misconduct complaints from the past five years made against agency officials.
"It is this member's belief that this was in fact deeper than 12 agents and that there in fact needs to be a pattern of change," said Issa, referring to the dozen Secret Service officials who were ensnared in the Colombia investigation. The service has moved to oust nine of those men and has cleared three others of major misconduct.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested Thursday that the Secret Service's problem may stem from the organization being overwhelmingly male - about 11% of the agency's personnel are women.
Asked what should be done if incidents like Cartagena prove to be part of a pattern, Reid offered a simple solution: "Hire more females."