WASHINGTON — At least 20 foreign women and as many Secret Service and military personnel met at a hotel in Colombia in an incident involving prostitution, and lawmakers are seeking information about any possible threat to the U.S. or to President Barack Obama who arrived for a conference soon after, congressional officials said Tuesday.
In briefings throughout the day, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told lawmakers that 11 members of his agency met with 11 women at a hotel in Cartagena and that more foreign females were involved with American military personnel. One Republican senator said Sullivan told him he had referred the matter to an independent government investigator.
Obama and some key 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 of this incident and is overseeing an investigation as we speak in to the matter,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“It sounds like he’s taking the situation very seriously,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who said Sullivan briefed him Tuesday. “It was welcome news that he has called on the inspector general for an independent review.”
Sullivan shuttled between meetings with lawmakers Tuesday, outlining what his investigators in Washington and in Colombia have found about the incident.
“Twenty or 21 women foreign nationals were brought to the hotel,” Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said Sullivan told her. Eleven of the Americans involved wereSecret Service.
Additionally, a U.S. official in Washington said Tuesday that 10 military members are being investigated in the matter. While the facts have yet to be fully sorted out, those 10 are from more than one service and none are officers, the official said.
A defense official said on Monday that at least some of the military are members of the Army.
Meanwhile, Sullivan told the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that the 11 Secret Serviceagents 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 Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
“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 in a telephone interview. 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 Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Grassley’s account that Sullivan had requested an inspector general investigation.
The scandal overshadowed Obama’s visit to a Latin America summit over the weekend and embarrassed the U.S.’s top 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.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are looking into the allegations, with King’s committee devoting four investigators. He said it’s not yet clear whether he’ll call hearings on the matter. He, too, said he’s standing behind Sullivan.
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.