The first congressional hearing into the scandal involving Secret Service personnel who allegedly cavorted with prostitutes in Colombia last month is set for this morning. As the time for that hearing approaches, a key senator is charging that such "morally repugnant" behavior appears to have been tolerated within the elite agency.
According to The Associated Press, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine will this morning challenge "early assurances that the scandal in Colombia appeared to be an isolated incident." In a statement prepared for the 10:30 a.m. ET hearing by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, AP says, Collins will note that two of the personnel involved in the Colombia incident were Secret Service supervisors — one with 21 years of service and the other with 22 years. Their involvement "surely sends a message to the rank and file that this kind of activity is tolerated on the road," Collins will say, according to her prepared remarks.
Meanwhile, in a development that could lend support to Collins' charge that such behavior has been tolerated, The Washington Post adds that four of the Secret Service personnel involved in the incident "have decided to fight their dismissals."
The Post adds that "the agents are arguing that the agency is making them scapegoats for behavior that the Secret Service has long tolerated."
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan is scheduled to testify at today's hearing. It will be his first appearance before Congress since the scandal story broke. C-SPAN is planning to stream the session.
Twelve Secret Service personnel were initially implicated in the scandal, which involved partying with prostitutes in Cartagena in the days before President Obama was due there for a summit with Latin American leaders. Three of those personnel were cleared of any serious wrongdoing. Twelve members of the U.S. military were also allegedly involved.
Update at 11:10 a.m. ET. "Absurd" To Say Such Behavior Is Condoned, Director Says:
Asked about the Post report and whether behavior such as what took place in Cartagena is tolerated, Sullivan just said "the notion that this type of behavior is condoned or authorized is just absurd in my opinion."
He asked that anyone with information about other such incidents come forward.
Update at 10:50 a.m. ET. Collins Doubts It Was An Isolated Incident; Sullivan Apologizes:
The hearing has begun, and Collins has expressed her concern about the "morally repugnant" behavior of the personnel. And, she just said it was "almost certainly not an isolated incident" based on what she has heard so far. Too many people were involved for it to have been a "one-time event," she added.
Meanwhile, Sullivan's prepared testimony has been posted. He does not directly address whether the type of conduct has been tolerated, but does say that reports of a similar case involving Secret Service personnel in El Salvador have been investigated and that there is no evidence to support the allegations.
While delivering his statement, Sullivan added that he is "deeply disappointed" in the conduct of the personnel involved in the Colombia scandal, "and I apologize" for their actions.
We've embedded his statement below. Click on the title "Director Sullivan's Testimony" to pop up a larger version.