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Top Dem unsatisfied with internal probe into prostitution scandal
The top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee is accusing the Obama administration of conducting a cursory investigation into the prostitution scandal surrounding the president's visit to Colombia in 2012.
The White House defended its handling of the incident this week after a new Washington Post report suggested that a member of the White House advance team - and not just members of the Secret Service - hired a prostitute ahead of Obama's visit to the Colombian city of Cartagena.
But Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Friday that the probe was insufficient.
"After more than two years, questions remain about this incident and its fallout," Thompson said Friday in a brief email. "It is clear that the investigations were not thorough and did not tell the whole story - and I still have concerns about the internal investigative process."
The White House has long-denied that any members of its team were involved in the prostitution scandal, which led to the ouster of a number of Secret Service agents when the news made headlines just days after Obama's visit for the Summit of the Americas. But in a story published Wednesday, the Post reported that a White House volunteer allegedly spent the night with a prostitute as a part of that trip.
Additionally, White House officials were given documents revealing the incident, the Post reported.
The White House this week has defended its response, arguing that the Post story is old news and the incident was thoroughly examined at the time with no evidence of wrongdoing.
"When the White House completed its review several years ago when we were aware of an erroneous hotel log - a similar version of which falsely implicated a Secret Service agent who was subsequently exonerated - that review found that no members of the White House team, including the volunteer in question, had engaged in inappropriate conduct," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday.
Some prominent Democrats agree, suggesting the story has been blown out of proportion by Obama's Republican critics. Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said this week that lawmakers should be more concerned with the more recent security breaches involving the Secret Service, such as the Army veteran accused of sprinting into the White House last month.
"It is difficult to determine what is new in this recent report since allegations about the White House volunteer were reported several years ago," Cummings said in an email. "To me, the much more significant issues are the grave security concerns at the Secret Service, as well as its longstanding cultural and managerial problems that reportedly cause officers to refrain from raising security concerns."
Republicans have pounced following the Post story, accusing the White House of covering up its involvement in the scandal for fear of blowback in a presidential election year.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who's seeking the gavel on the House Oversight panel in the next Congress, is accusing the administration of adopting a double standard by punishing the Secret Service agents but not the White House volunteer allegedly involved.
"The White House needs to come clean," Chaffetz told Fox News Thursday. "The concern is that when it came to the White House and the White House taking care of its own personnel [there was a] totally different standard."
Despite Thompson's criticism, the debate has taken on a decidedly more partisan tone than it did when the scandal broke in 2012. Then, top Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were quick to condemn the behavior of the Secret Service agents.
"It's actually disgusting," Pelosi said at the time. "There has to be an investigation to see how this could have happened and those responsible should have to pay a price."
Pelosi has not weighed in, however, on the potential involvement of the White House volunteer outlined in the Post story.
Her office declined to comment on the topic this week.