WASHINGTON – Three Secret Service officials are out of their jobs as new details emerged Wednesday in the investigation of the prostitution scandal that is roiling the agency.
One official resigned. Another described as a supervisory employee was allowed to retire, and the agency moved to dismiss another supervisory employee "for cause," said Paul Morrissey, a spokesman for the Secret Service.
Eight other agents under investigation remain suspended.
Eleven agents and at least 10 military servicemembers — all part of an advance team that traveled to Colombia ahead of President Obama's visit over the weekend for the Summit of the Americas— allegedly brought as many as 21 prostitutes to a hotel in Cartagena.
Investigators from the Secret Service's Office of Professional Responsibility have been dispatched to Cartagena to interview witnesses, and at least some of the agents have undergone polygraph examinations.
"Although the Secret Service's investigation into allegations of misconduct by its employees in Cartagena, Colombia, is in its early stages, and is still ongoing, three of the individuals involved will separate or are in the process of separating from the agency," Morrissey said in a written statement.
The New York Times interviewed the prostitute at the center of the scandal who said the dispute between her and the agent that uncovered the prostitution was trigggered by a disagreement on how much to pay for her services. She said she had no idea the man was part of the Obama security team, the newspaper reported.
"I tell him, 'Baby, my cash money,' " the woman tells Times reporter William Neuman in in her first public comments on the incident.
She tells the Times that the man had offered $30 for the night of sex but, in what may stem from a misunderstanding because of the language barrier, she thought they had agreed to $800.
The dispute turned into a hallway quarrel in the luxury Hotel Caribe, eventually drawing in another prostitute, Colombian police officers and other Secret Service agents who tried to defuse the argument.
"They never told me they were with Obama," she tells the newspaper. "They were very discreet."
The Pentagon also has opened an investigation into the incident, which has been viewed by many as an unforgivable breach of security by the service charged with protecting the president.
Meanwhile, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., suggested in a letter to Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan that the agents may have exposed sensitive information to the prostitutes. Issa and Cummings are respectively the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and were briefed by Sullivan on the incident this week.
"The facts as you described them raised questions about the agency's culture," Issa and Cummings wrote. "The incident … is troubling because Secret Service agents and officers made a range of of bad decisions, from drinking too much, to engaging with prostitutes, to bringing foreign nationals into contact with sensitive security information, to exposing themselves to blackmail and other forms of potential compromise."
Even as Obama and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have expressed outrage over the prostitution scandal, Sullivan has so far emerged relatively unscathed and has even managed to command a measure of respect. On Wednesday, one day after the White House said Sullivan continues to hold the president's confidence, likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seconded Obama's support for the director.
"We are a nation, after all, under law, and the president has confidence in the head of the Secret Service, as do I," Romney told radio show host Laura Ingraham.
Sullivan has received plaudits from Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who said he was "impressed'' with how quickly Sullivan moved to launch his own internal inquiry and to request a separate investigation of the matter by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. Issa and Cummings also applauded Sullivan for taking "swift and decisive action in response to this scandal."
Sullivan, who was named director of the Secret Service in May 2006, joined the service in 1983 and was assigned to the Detroit field office. He was transferred to Washington in 1990 and got his first presidential protective division assignment in 1991. He has served in various roles, including heading the vice presidential protective division and serving as the deputy director, before landing the top spot.
Sullivan has his critics. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., on Wednesday called on Obama to fire Sullivan, noting that the Secret Service also failed to prevent a pair of reality show cast members from crashing a state dinner at the White House in 2009.
"It's time we step up and say, 'This is not acceptable; we're going to change the leadership and straighten this problem out,' " Forbes said.
Ronald Kessler, author of the book In The President's Secret Service and a critic of the director, said the incident "is a symptom of the corner cutting and laxness that has been going on under Director Sullivan." Still, he said, Sullivan is likely to survive.
Joseph Wippl, a former CIA officer and scholar at Boston University, said that Sullivan did well in mitigating a difficult situation through his quick response to lawmakers. Wippl noted, however, that Sullivan may not be out of the woods yet. The investigation is ongoing, and Secret Service and other administration officials could be hauled before lawmakers looking to express their outrage in a public setting.
"He dealt with the problem, but from a management standpoint you have to remind people that you have to conduct yourself in a way that is appropriate because you are an American official serving overseas," Wippl said. "That said, this incident does not mark the end of the republic."