President Barack Obama, speaking for the first time about allegations that Secret Service agents hired prostitutes, said Sunday that “of course I’ll be angry” if those accusations are proven true by an investigation.
Obama said the agents represent the United States and are supposed to conduct themselves with the highest levels of dignity anywhere in the world. “Obviously, what’s been reported doesn’t match up to those standards,” Obama said in a news conference wrapping his appearance at a Latin America summit.
The president never directly mentioned that the specific accusations, confirmed by media outlets, that agents were cavorting with prostitutes before the president arrived in Colombia.
The Secret Service sent 11 agents home and placed them on leave for misconduct as the agency reviews what happened.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia in designated “tolerance zones”. Local police were called to the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena’s upmarket Bocagrande neighbourhood after a dispute with a woman in the room of one of the agents.
According to media reports, the agents had been drinking heavily before the president’s arrival and taken women back to their hotel last Wednesday night. In the morning the woman involved in the dispute “freaked out” after she was not paid and banged on walls and doors in the hotel hallways.
King, who has been briefed on the situation, described a calmer scene to The Washington Post, which broke the story. He said that under hotel policy, overnight guests must leave photo identification at the front desk and leave the hotel by 7am the next morning.
According to King, the woman at the centre of the dispute had not left the hotel by 7am. Hotel officials called the police when the agent refused to open his room.
The woman refused to leave until she was paid, the agent disputed that he owed her any money. The incident was reported to the US Embassy and then referred to the Secret Service.
The agents were recalled and replaced before Obama’s arrival in the city on Friday afternoon. King told The Washington Post that “everything they did was a violation of proper conduct”.
“First of all, to be getting involved with prostitutes in a foreign country can leave yourself vulnerable to blackmail and threats,” King said. “To be bringing prostitutes or almost anyone into a security zone when you’re supposed to protect the president is totally wrong.”
The Hotel Caribe is less than 1,000 metres from the Cartagena Hilton where Obama is staying.
Secret Service assistant director Paul Morrissey said in a statement that the situation had “had no impact on the Secret Service’s ability to execute a comprehensive security plan for the president’s visit to Cartagena”….