Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

White House quells scandal

Says no wrongdoing in prostitute case

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WASHINGTON -- Investigating the prostitution scandal at the Secret Service, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general uncovered a hotel record suggesting a member of U.S. President Barack Obama's team might have been involved, according to a summary of the case submitted to Congress. A senior administration official told The Associated Press the White House determined the record was false and the person in question did nothing wrong.

The possibility of such an encounter raises the potential for election-year fallout for the White House, which reviewed the matter months ago and cleared all its workers of wrongdoing. In a sign of campaign politics, Republican lawmakers questioned the credibility of the White House review, as the White House feared.

"I am troubled that the (inspector general's) findings reveal White House personnel may have been involved," Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said in a statement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, sent the White House a letter Thursday asking for more information about its internal review. He questioned whether the White House had any role in delaying the inspector general's report.

The acting inspector general, Charles K. Edwards, said the employee-- described by the administration as a volunteer, not a staff member -- "may have had contact with foreign nationals" and "may have been affiliated with the White House advance operation," according to a letter to lawmakers obtained by the AP. Edwards cited as evidence a hotel registry.

Edwards acknowledged his investigators did not pursue information about the activities of the White House worker, who was not identified, or the actions of another U.S. military employee, because his report was intended to focus on Homeland Security workers. Edwards said his office "did not conduct any additional investigation into this finding and has made no determination related to these individuals because they are not DHS personnel."

The administration official told the AP the hotel record Edwards cited in his letter to Congress was incorrect, and the person affiliated with the White House team did nothing improper. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Obama team member was a volunteer working as part of White House advance team that helped set up Obama's trip to Cartagena, Colombia, for a summit in April.

The White House review found that a guest, perhaps a prostitute, had signed in to visit the same room assigned to that volunteer member of Obama's team. This occurred at the Hilton hotel where Obama later stayed.

But the review found the hotel log was false and there was no other evidence to corroborate that the individual had a visitor, the official said.

"As we've said for months, the White House review concluded that no members of the White House advance team, either staff or volunteers, engaged in inappropriate conduct during the president's trip to Colombia," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

One other member of the Secret Service had been inaccurately implicated when a guest who signed into the hotel falsely gave his room number.

According to the summary from Edwards, 13 Secret Service employees had "personal encounters with female Colombian nationals" in advance of Obama's arrival.

Six of the women, including a prostitute who has identified herself as Dania Suarez, were paid, according to the case summary.

The scandal erupted when a Secret Service employee who spent the night with Suarez refused to pay and the two argued at the Hotel Caribe.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2012 A24

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