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US Agencies Probe Secret Service Prostitution Scandal

U.S. secret service agents walk around the Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, prior to the opening ceremony of the 6th Summit of the Americas, April 14, 2012.
U.S. secret service agents walk around the Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, prior to the opening ceremony of the 6th Summit of the Americas, April 14, 2012.

Top U.S. lawmakers are calling for more firings at the Secret Service, after a prostitution scandal diminished the reputation of the agents who protect the president. Three people have left the service as a result of the scandal. It is uncertain whether the events in Colombia will affect President Barack Obama's reelection bid.

Republican Representative Peter King, who is leading an investigation of the scandal, said Thursday he welcomed the previous day's departures and would not be surprised if more followed. Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the departures a positive development.

Eleven Secret Service employees are alleged to have taken prostitutes to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia last week, when they were setting up security for President Obama's visit to the Summit of the Americas.

Secret Service investigators are in Colombia, looking into the incident.

Jeffrey Robinson, co-author of a book about the inner workings of the Secret Service, says the scandal has tarnished the agency’s image.

“Well, tarnished is the right word, and that is why a lot of the agents are really very upset," said Robinson. "I mean, they are furious that these 11 guys would put the agency in this kind of light and deter from a lot of the other agents - all of the other agents - doing their job.”

Immediately after the incident was made public last Saturday, President Obama told reporters the alleged behavior of the agents was unacceptable for anyone representing the United States.

"If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then, of course, I'll be angry," said President Obama.

The Secret Service employees thought to be involved were not part of the president's protection detail. About 10 military service members are also suspected to have taken part.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney this week praised the actions of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan after the incident.

"The president has confidence in the director of the Secret Service," said Carney. "Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident, and is overseeing an investigation, as we speak, into the matter."

Reaction to the scandal by opposition Republicans has been somewhat muted. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, President Obama's likely opponent in the November election, said he also has confidence in the agency's director.

Romney said in a radio interview on Wednesday that he would fire the agents involved.

The Secret Service incident comes at the same time that employees of another government agency, the General Services Administration, are accused of spending extravagant amounts of money at a 2010 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The two stories are causing some of the president's political opponents to question the competence promised by the Obama campaign in 2008.

But several experts say they do not expect the Secret Service scandal to cause lasting political harm to President Obama.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it would be hard for political opponents to capitalize on the scandal.

"It is unfortunate," said Mann. "It is embarrassing for the Secret Service, but it is hard to imagine any sentient human being linking Obama to it. And I cannot imagine how an opposing candidate could actually use it against him in the campaign without himself being harmed."

Author Jeffrey Robinson says there is little, if anything, the Obama administration could have done to prevent the agents from engaging with prostitutes.

"Anybody who tries to make this into something more than 11 guys getting drunk and doing what 11 drunk guys do when they have got time on their hands, and go look for hookers and that sort of thing, it is just not fair. It is wrong," he said.

Robinson predicts that the Secret Service prostitution scandal will probably be forgotten within a year.