WASHINGTON - The international prostitution scandal at the Secret Service claimed its first casualties Wednesday. The agency announced three agents would leave the service, even as separate U.S. government investigations were under way into the incident.
The episode took a sharp political turn when presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he would fire the agents involved.
The Secret Service did not identify the three agents leaving the government or eight more it said remain on administrative leave. In a statement, it said one supervisor was allowed to retire and another will be fired for cause. A third employee, who was not a supervisor, has resigned.
The agents were implicated in the prostitution scandal that also involved about 10 military service members and as many as 20 women. All the Secret Service employees who were involved had their security clearances revoked.
"These are the first steps," said Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service. King said the agency's director, Mark Sullivan, took employment action against "the three people he believes the case was clearest against." But King warned: "It's certainly not over."
The scandal, which has become an election-year embarrassment for the Obama administration, erupted last week after 11 Secret Service agents were sent home from the colonial city of Cartagena on Colombia's Caribbean coast after a night of partying that reportedly ended with at least some of them bringing prostitutes back to their hotel. The special agents and uniformed officers were in Colombia in advance of President Obama's arrival for the Summit of the Americas.
In Washington and Colombia, separate U.S. government investigations were already under way. King said he has assigned four congressional investigators to the probe. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), sought details of the Secret Service investigation, including the disciplinary histories of the agents involved. Secret Service investigators are in Colombia interviewing witnesses.
New details of the sordid night emerged Wednesday. A 24-year-old self-described escort told the New York Times that she met an agent at a discotheque in Cartagena and after a night of drinking, the pair agreed the agent would pay her $800 for sex at the hotel. The next morning, when the hotel's front desk called because the woman hadn't left, the pair argued over the price.
"I tell him, 'Baby, my cash money,' " the woman told the newspaper in an interview in Colombia. She said the two argued after the agent initially offered to pay her about $30 and the situation escalated, eventually ending with Colombian law enforcement involved. She said she was eventually paid about $225.
Romney told radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that "I'd clean house" at the Secret Service.
"The right thing to do is to remove people who have violated the public trust and have put their play time and their personal interests ahead of the interests of the nation," Romney said.
While Romney suggested to Ingraham that a leadership problem led to the scandal, he told a Columbus, Ohio, radio station earlier that he has confidence in Sullivan, the head of the agency. "I believe the right corrective action will be taken there and obviously everyone is very, very disappointed," Romney said. "I think it will be dealt with [in] as aggressive a way as is possible."