WASHINGTON — At least 20 foreign women and as many Secret Service officers and Marines 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.