By Jeremy Herb and Amie Parnes - 04/18/12 09:00 AM EDT
The Colombia prostitution scandal widened Tuesday as it emerged that Secret Service agents and military personnel brought back at least 20 women to a hotel that was to be used for President Obama’s state visit.
The military’s involvement in the scandal also expanded, as around 10 service members appeared to be targeted in the inquiry, in addition to the 11 Secret Service agents already under investigation.
Obama has “confidence” in Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan despite the allegations, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, as Sullivan “acted swiftly” to investigate the incident.
“The Secret Service performs admirably in its No. 1 mission, which is to protect the president of the United States,” Carney said, adding that Obama feels strongly that the work the service does is “exemplary.”
On Monday and Tuesday, Sullivan briefed several key members of Congress about the investigation. Afterward, lawmakers disclosed new details about the scandal and said Sullivan had called for an independent review by the inspector general.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said 20 or 21 foreign women were brought back to the hotel in Colombia.
“If the facts prove to be as reported on this, this is an incredible lack of character and breach of security, and potentially extremely serious,” Collins said.
“We don’t know who these women are. They could be spies, they could be associated with hostile forces, they could have disabled the agents’ weapons or planted listening devices or in other ways breached security,” she said.
Collins said she has raised questions with Sullivan about the president’s security and whether the incident indicates problems within the culture of the Secret Service.
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who was also briefed by Sullivan, said it was “welcome news” that he would call for an inspector general review.
“The allegations against a few agents in the Secret Service have given the entire agency a black eye, and a transparent, independent review should help the agency regain some respect from the American taxpayers and from people around the world,” Grassley said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also weighed in, calling the incident “embarrassing.”
“I do think that what has gone on is very embarrassing, and I think it’s clear there are investigations going on both at the Pentagon and at the Secret Service, and I hope we get to the bottom of it, quickly,” Boehner said.
Obama said on Sunday that he would withhold judgment on the incident until the full investigation was completed. But he added that if the allegations turned out to be true, “then of course I’ll be angry.”
Carney stopped short of saying whether Obama felt let down by the people involved. He said the president “believes that all of us who travel abroad represent our country ... and that we need to behave with the ... highest levels of integrity and probity.”
The Secret Service and the Pentagon are both conducting investigations into the allegations.
U.S. Southern Command spokesman Col. Scott Malcom said that the inquiry has expanded beyond the five service members initially announced by the Pentagon, though he did not put an exact number on how many are being investigated.
Malcom said that the military personnel involved were initially returned to Southern Command, which is based in Florida, and have since been sent to their home bases.
Marine spokesman Capt. Kevin Schultz said that two of the military personnel were Marine dog handlers who worked on the president’s advance team. He would not comment if any other troops involved were Marines.
ABC News reported Tuesday that the Secret Service agents allegedly bragged, “We work for Obama” and “We’re here to protect him” as they partied at the “Pley Club” brothel in Cartagena.
The agents’ involvement with prostitutes became public after one of the women was angry about not being paid and the police were called to the hotel.
Both Collins and Grassley said that their committees were still deciding how to proceed on investigations or hearings into the matter. House Homeland Security Committee
Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) said his staff is “closely investigating” the allegations and will probably hold hearings.
In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, King said he has “tremendous respect” for the Secret Service, despite the “flagrant violation of security.”
“This story is as old as mankind, where you have enemies using women to go into a security zone and try to obtain secret information,” King said. “It was the height of irresponsibility to allow anyone into that zone of security.”
Carlo Munoz and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.