Investigator confirms misconduct by Secret Service personnel in Colombia

Cliff Owen/AP

A Homeland Security Department investigator confirmed in a letter sent to lawmakers that 13 Secret Service personnel were involved in “personal encounters with Colombian female nationals” prior to a presidential trip to Colombia in April.

Charles Edwards, DHS’ acting inspector general, wrote the findings are part of an ongoing investigation that has included 251 interviews with Secret Service personnel, the results of which will be published in a report. Edwards said in his letter the report will not be made public, although in a statement confirming that Edwards met with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., the IG office said the report is finished and will be made public on its website.

The inspector general’s office told Government Executive a publication date has not been set as the report is not yet finalized, but confirmed it will be made public.

In the letter, Edwards said his office interviewed 12 of the 13 personnel who had encounters with the Colombian prostitutes. He determined three females left without asking for pay, five females asked for money and were paid, and four females asked for money and were not paid.

The president’s security was never in jeopardy, he wrote.

“Although we found that these agents engaged in misconduct, our investigation developed no evidence to suggest that the actions of USSS personnel in Cartagena compromised the safety and security of the president or any sensitive information during this trip,” Edwards wrote in the letter.

The investigators found two more non-Secret Service officials may have had contact with the prostitutes, but they did not pursue the possibility as it falls “outside the scope of the investigation.”

They did determine that one of the employees works for the Defense Department in association with the White House Communication Agency. They could not confirm the employment status of the other individual, but said he “may have been affiliated with the White House advance operation.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in April “there was no indication of misconduct” by the White House advance team. A senior administration official continued to deny that any White House personnel were involved.

“Based on inaccurate hotel records, at least two people were wrongly implicated in Colombia -- one of which was Secret Service personnel, as [Secret Service] Director [Mark J.] Sullivan has made clear, and the other was a White House volunteer for the advance team,” the official told Government Executive. “In the White House review, we found no other corroborating materials, and concluded that the hotel record was erroneous and that the volunteer did not engage in any inappropriate behavior.”

At least one lawmaker has found this discrepancy disconcerting.

“I am troubled that the IG’s findings reveal White House personnel may have been involved,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement. “The White House explicitly denied any involvement after its own investigation and now the IG is questioning that account.  This raises concerns about the credibility of the White House investigation.”

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