Washington (CNN) - Key senators reacted with anger and disappointment Tuesday to allegations that members of the U.S. Secret Service and the military were involved with prostitutes while on a trip to Colombia in advance of President Barack Obama’s recent visit.
The chairman of a key oversight committee said the troubling charges require a “rigorous investigation” to find out what happened.
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Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has partial oversight of the Secret Service, said his staff is looking into the accusations and that he may call hearings to investigate further.
“If a member of the military or Secret Service puts himself in a compromising position (while) off duty, that can create risks that affects our national security or the safety of our most important public officials. History, unfortunately, is full of cases where people in positions of great responsibility, including security, have been compromised by, well, enemies or spies,” Lieberman said.
“I’m not saying that happened here, but once you conduct your self in this way you open that risk. That’s why this really requires rigorous investigation as quick as it can be done fairly. And then people who didn’t live by the code need to be punished severely,” he said.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said she wants to know if similar behavior has occurred in the past and if there is a “problem with the culture of the Secret Service.”
Collins said she spoke by phone with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan about the issue Monday night. She said she was told that “20 or 21 women” she referred to as foreign nationals were brought to the hotel and that 11 Secret Service agents were involved. Collins said she was also told members of the military may have been involved as well.
“Who are these women?” Collins asked. “Could they have been members of groups hostile to the United States? Could they have planted bugs, disabled weapons, or in any other way jeopardized security of the president of our country?”
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, similarly said he had spoken with Sullivan about the scandal.
“It sounds like he’s taking the situation very seriously. It was welcome news that he has called on the Inspector General for an independent review. The allegations against a few agents in the Secret Service have given the entire agency a black eye, and a transparent, independent review should help the agency regain some respect from the American taxpayers and from people around the world,” Grassley said in a statement.
The Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, said she was “profoundly disappointed.”
“I’ve always respected the Secret Service as kind of ‘numero uno’ of our law enforcement community,” she said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said he was particularly concerned that those who are responsible for the president’s safety “mess up and don’t do their job and take their eye of their responsibilities.”
Levin said he will consider holding hearings on the conduct of the members of the military involved in the scandal, but wants to learn more before calling a hearing.
Finally, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, said the whole affair is sad because it tarnishes the image of these “outstanding organizations.”
“I’m sure there will be a full investigation. I’m sure the people who are guilty will be punished but the damage makes me sad because I know the people in these organizations and they are great Americans. A few of them have tarnished the reputations of many,” he said.