The White House today tried to halt a ballooning Secret Service scandal involving the alleged hiring of prostitutes by saying it had reviewed "advance team" members who were in Colombia before President Obama's arrival and determined they had done nothing wrong. But the White House refused to share details of the review.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that last Friday a White House lawyer began an investigation of the team members who were in Cartagena during the prostitution scandal, and that it found "no indication of any misconduct" by the White House team.
The decision to review the advance team was made by the White House counsel and the chief of staff's office, Carney said. He declined to confirm how many interviews were undertaken or any other details. "I don't think it's useful to get into the details of how the review was conducted," Carney said.
"I don't have, and I'm not going to give you, a blow-by-blow of what is involved in the review," said Carney.
Carney was pressed about a report on the news website Nextgov that said a person in the White House Communications Agency, a military group that informs the president and his staff members, was under investigation. He declined to answer questions about it, saying they were for the Defense Department instead.
A senior, unnamed defense official confirmed to a press pool traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that a member of the military assigned to the White House communications team is under investigation.
"A military servicemember attached to the White House Communications Agency is under investigation related to the incident in Cartagena," an unnamed Defense spokesperson said. "The individual has been relieved of his duties pending the outcome of the investigation. The White House Communications Agency provides information services to the executive branch, Secret Service and others as directed, but it reports to the Defense Information Systems Agency."
Carney also lashed out against "rumors" on the Internet published by writers "with no editors and no conscience."
"If someone comes to us with some credible allegation that anybody at the White House was involved in any inappropriate conduct, I'm sure that we'll look at it, but there isn't that," he said. "There is an attempt by some to throw rumors out there."
Of the "communications agency," Carney said that "these are military personnel staffed by the military."
"They are not members of the White House staff," he said. "They are not chosen by the White House senior staff."
Members of Congress investigating the agents' trip to Colombia have speculated that more employees would be fired and wondered whether White House staff was involved.
Six Secret Service employees, including two supervisors, have already lost their jobs as a result of an investigation into a night out in Cartagena in which agents drank heavily and mingled with prostitutes before a visit by President Obama.
The Secret Service said last week that 12 employees had been "implicated" in the investigation, and the military said 12 of its service members were being investigated.
The Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee suggested today that the Secret Service inquiry has expanded to include people who work in the White House.
"It looks like it's broadened a bit," Rep. John Mica of Florida said. "First, it was Secret Service. Now, it looks like there might be some activity by White House staff."
Rep. Peter King, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, predicted on NBC's "Today" show this morning that more agents would leave the Secret Service.
"I think we can expect in the next day or so to see several more agents being forced to leave the agency," the New York Republican said.
Indignation from Capitol Hill and beyond was on display Sunday morning as members of Congress condemned the agents' actions on morning talk shows. Even Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said on "Meet the Press" that "this is really disturbing, and we have to get to the bottom of it."
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said on ABC's "This Week," "It included two supervisors. That is particularly shocking and appalling."
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said on Fox News Sunday that "they were not acting like Secret Service agents; they were acting like a bunch of college students on spring weekend."
Some have also called for more women to be part of the Secret Service, and the leadership of the agency's director, Mark Sullivan, has been called into question. Carney said today that when Sullivan recently briefed Obama on the investigation, he didn't offer to resign.
Luis Martinez contributed to this report.