WASHINGTON -- The lawmaker leading an inquiry into the Secret Service prostitution scandal reported dozens of "troubling" episodes of past misbehavior yesterday and appealed to insiders to come forward with what they know as investigators try to determine whether a culture of misconduct took root in the storied agency.
"We can only know what the records of the Secret Service reveal," Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman said in opening the first Senate hearing into the matter. And those records, however incomplete, show 64 instances of allegations or complaints of sexual misconduct made against Secret Service employees in the last five years, he said.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, speaking to the inquiry, apologized for the behavior of the employees in Colombia. But his assertion that the agency has a "zero tolerance" policy on such conduct did not convince the lawmakers, who brought more allegations to light.
Lieberman cited three complaints of inappropriate relationships with a foreign national and one of "non-consensual intercourse," which he did not elaborate on. Sullivan said that complaint was investigated by outside law enforcement officers who decided not to prosecute.
Sullivan also told the committee an agent was fired in a 2008 Washington prostitution episode, after trying to hire an undercover police officer.
Many of the other complaints cited by Lieberman involved agency employees sending sexually suggestive emails.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the hearing several small groups of Secret Service employees separately visited clubs, bars and brothels in Colombia before a visit by President Barack Obama last month and engaged in reckless, "morally repugnant" behavior.
Collins said the employees' actions could have provided a foreign intelligence service, drug cartels or other criminals with opportunities for blackmail or coercion threatening the president's safety.
Challenging early assurances that the Colombia episode appeared an isolated incident, she noted that two participants were Secret Service supervisors, one with 21 years of service and the other with 22 years, and both were married. Their involvement "surely sends a message to the rank and file that this kind of activity is tolerated on the road," Collins said.