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Obama says he has confidence in Secret Service director as prostitution scandal widens

By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has confidence in the Secret Service director, his spokesman said Tuesday, as a prostitution scandal widened with allegations that at least 20 women joined members of the U.S. advance team arranging security for the president’s visit to Colombia last weekend.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was briefed by Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, told reporters that “20 or 21 women foreign nationals were brought” to the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena where the Secret Service and other members of the advance team were staying.

The Secret Service is investigating 11 agents and the Pentagon is investigating 10 military personnel — five Army Special Forces soldiers, two Marines, two Navy personnel and one member of the Air Force — for alleged misconduct. The probe may broaden to other military personnel who stayed at the hotel, an official said.

The agents and military members were part of a larger team of Americans who were sent to Cartagena to help secure government buildings and other facilities before Obama arrived to attend the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of regional leaders.

The Secret Service flew the 11 agents home last Thursday, a day before Obama arrived, after an agent’s dispute with a local prostitute drew local police and the U.S. Embassy was alerted. The number of women involved in the affair was not previously known.

Collins said she gave several questions to Sullivan, including whether he had uncovered “any evidence of previous misconduct by these or any other agents on other missions,” whether the allegations “indicate a problem with the culture of the Secret Service,” and whether the women “had been members of groups hostile to the United States.”

Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, also expressed confidence in Sullivan. She said she was certain he “will fully investigate these troubling issues as well as pursue appropriate action against the agents should the allegations prove true.”

After speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama ignored a shouted question from a reporter about whether Sullivan should resign.

Asked the same question later, Carney said, “The president has confidence in the director of the Secret Service.” He said Sullivan “acted quickly in response to this incident.”

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