WASHINGTON – The Democratic chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a senior Republican senator expressed concern Wednesday over an alleged incident involving a drunken Secret Service agent in connection with President Barack Obama’s overseas trip to the Netherlands.
On Sunday, the agency called three agents home from the Netherlands just before Obama’s arrival for talks with foreign leaders in The Hague. One agent had been found inebriated inside a hotel, according to reports.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the Homeland Security Committee chairman, said Wednesday he is “troubled by the reports regarding the behavior of a few Secret Service agents serving on the president’s detail in the Netherlands,” according to a statement. His office said he’s asked the Secret Service for more information about the episode.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the incident “shows that the agency has to deal with some in its ranks who fail to respect the important job the agency is tasked with.” While he said that he appreciated “swift action” by Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, the senator added that “it looks like she’s still got work to do to regain the trust of the American people.”
The latest embarrassing incident involving a drunken Secret Service agent comes a year into the term of a new agency director who already has been confronted with a handful of incidents since the Colombia prostitution scandal nearly two years ago. In that episode, 13 agents and officers were accused of partying with female foreign citizens at a hotel in the seaside resort of Cartagena, where they were staying before Obama’s arrival.
Agents can consume alcohol only “in moderate amounts while off duty” or on temporary assignment, according to an updated Secret Service professional conduct manual obtained by The Associated Press. They also can’t drink within 10 hours of reporting for duty.
A Secret Service spokesman on Wednesday declined to comment on the incident, except to say that three agents were sent home for “disciplinary reasons.” White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters traveling with the president, said Obama had been briefed on the incident and supports Pierson’s zero-tolerance approach.
“The president believes, as he has said in the past, that everybody representing the United States of America overseas needs to hold himself or herself to the highest standards,” Carney said.
Obama named Pierson as the agency’s first female director last March in a sign he wanted to change the agency’s culture and restore public confidence in its operations. Since then, Pierson has had to face some alleged misbehavior on the elite service, which is charged with protecting the president and investigating financial fraud.
In November, two Secret Service agents were removed from Obama’s detail after one was allegedly discovered trying to re-enter a woman’s hotel room because he left a bullet from his weapon behind. In a subsequent probe, investigators came across sexually suggestive emails that the agent and another supervisor had sent to a female subordinate, The Washington Post reported.
More recently, two counter-sniper officers suspected of drinking were involved in a March 7 car accident during a presidential visit to Miami, the Post reported Wednesday, citing several people with knowledge of the incident. The driver passed a field sobriety test and was not arrested, the newspaper reported.
The agency disputes that recent reports of misbehavior is indicative of a widespread trend. And an inspector general’s report made public in December concluded there was no evidence of widespread misconduct, in line with the service’s longstanding assertion that it has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
Pierson said in a letter to former Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards that, while the agency agreed with the report’s 14 recommendations, she was concerned about how the survey was conducted and its results.