WASHINGTON — Senators investigating the Secret Service prostitution scandal said Wednesday that dozens of reported episodes of misconduct by agents point to a culture of carousing in the agency and urged Director Mark Sullivan to get past his insistence that the romp in Cartagena was a one-time mistake.
The disconnect between the senators and Sullivan reappeared again and again throughout the two-hour hearing, even as the Secret Service chief for the first time apologized for the incident that tarnished the elite presidential protection force. By the end, Sullivan's job appeared secure even as new details emerged that left little doubt, senators said, that a pattern of sexual misbehavior had taken root in the agency.
"He kept saying over and over again that he basically does think this was an isolated incident and I don't think he has any basis for that conclusion," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security panel that heard Sullivan's first public accounting of the episode.
"For the good of the Secret Service," added Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the panel chairman, "he's got to assume that what happened in Cartagena was not an isolated incident or else it will happen again." Still, Sullivan insisted repeatedly that in his 29-year Secret Service career he had never heard anyone say that misconduct was condoned, implicitly or otherwise.
"I just do not think that this is something that is systemic within this organization," Sullivan said.
The misconduct became public after a dispute over payment between a Secret Service agent and a prostitute at a Cartagena hotel on April 12. The Secret Service was in the Colombian coastal resort for a Latin American summit before Obama's arrival. Twelve employees were implicated, eight of them ousted, three cleared of serious misconduct and one is being stripped of his security clearance. Sullivan said two who initially resigned now are fighting for their jobs back.