US senators investigating the Secret Service prostitution scandal have said that dozens of allegations of misconduct by agents point to a culture of carousing and urged its director, Mark Sullivan, to get past his insistence that the romp in Colombia was a one-time mistake.
The disconnect between the senators and Sullivan was evident throughout the two-hour hearing on Wednesday, even as the director for the first time apologised for the incident that tarnished the elite presidential protection force.
"I am deeply disappointed and I apologise for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction it has caused," Sullivan said as he appeared before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The scandal broke last month, when 12 officers and agents, while preparing for President Obama's arrival in Cartagena, Colombia, allegedly spent their off duty hours drinking heavily and even bringing prostitutes back to their hotel rooms.
Sullivan said he immediately ordered an investigation into the incident and removed the officers involved from their duties. He has reportedly also set up a "Professional Reinforcement Working Group" to review the agency's standards of conduct.
Still, the US senator Joseph Lieberman said he believes the scandal was not an isolated incident and is calling for further investigation.
"It is hard for many people, including me I will admit, to believe that on one night in April 2012, in Cartagena, Colombia, 12 Secret Service agents - there to protect the president - suddenly and spontaneously did something they or other agents had never done before," Lieberman said.
He said 64 allegations of sexual misconduct against Secret Service employees in the past five years have surfaced since the prostitution scandal broke.
Sullivan called the actions of the 12 men accused of misconduct, "dumb," but he said their behaviour is not systemic within the secret service.
"The thought or belief that this behaviour is condoned is absurd," Sullivan told senators. He said their actions are "not representative of [the] values or the high ethical standards we demand".
The senators appeared unsatisfied. They accused agents of doing little to conceal their actions from supervisors, when they used their real names to sign in the prostitutes they brought to their hotel.
Senator Susan Collins claimed this demonstrates a culture of tolerance within the agency for what she called "repugnant" behaviour. "This misconduct was almost certainly not an isolated incident," Collins said.
An inspector general has been called in to conduct an independent review of the Secret Service's investigation. Its first report is expected in July.