— -- The Colombia prostitute scandal engulfing the Secret Service widened Friday as the agency announced that three more employees would resign in connection to the alleged misconduct, bringing the overall number of employees to lose their jobs to six. The agency also said that the total number of agents implicated had risen by one to 12.
On the political front, the White House hit back at Republican critics like Sarah Palin, accusing them of improperly trying to use the embarrassing controversy as a political weapon against President Barack Obama.
"In addition to the previously announced personnel actions, three additional employees have chosen to resign," Assistant Director Paul S. Morrissey of the U.S. Secret Service Office of Government and Public Affairs said in a statement emailed to reporters.
"As a result of the ongoing investigation in Cartagena, a twelfth employee has been implicated. He has been placed on administrative leave and his security clearance has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
"One of the employees involved has been cleared of serious misconduct, but will face appropriate administrative action. At this point, five employees continue to be on administrative leave and their security clearances remain suspended pending the outcome of this investigation," Morrissey said.
The scandal has also caught up at least 11 military personnel. The controversy erupted when members of the Secret Service and the military were in Cartagena, Colombia on the sidelines of an international summit attended by Obama — though there has yet to be any suggestion that his security was in any way compromised by agents in compromising situations.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney hit back sharply at Palin, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, after she charged that the scandal and the controversy over wanton spending at the General Services Administration (GSA) were brought on by Obama's "poor management skills."
"It is preposterous to politicize the Secret Service," Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.
Palin and Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions have in recent days charged that the scandal, coupled with the outrage over lavish GSA spending on a convention in Las Vegas, reflects poorly on Obama. Those two controversies, as well as the tragic mass slaying of Afghan civilians, allegedly by an American soldier, have overshadowed much of the White House's agenda in recent weeks.
"What they're doing is trying to turn these incidents—one that's still under investigation—to political advantage," Carney charged when asked about critics who lump the three issues together. "On the face of it, it's a ridiculous assertion that trivializes both the very serious nature of the endeavor that our military is engaged in in Afghanistan and the very serious nature both of the work that the Secret Service does, the apolitical nature of the institution, and the seriousness of the investigation under way," the spokesman said.
Palin weighed in on the scandal on Fox News Channel late Thursday after The Washington Post reported that David Chaney, one of two agents removed as a result, reportedly posted a photograph of himself guarding the former Republican vice presidential candidate during the 2008 campaign and captioned it " I was really checking her out, if you know what i mean?"
"Well, check this out, bodyguard. You're fired," Palin quipped.
"You know, the president, for one, he better be wary there of—when Secret Service is accompanying his family on vacation. They may be checking out the first lady instead of guarding her. And I say that not just tongue-in-cheek, but I say that seriously, that the president, the CEO of this operation called our federal government has got to start cracking down on these agencies! He is the head of the administrative branch and all these different departments in the administration that now people are seeing things that are so amiss within these departments."
"The buck stops with the president. And he's really got to start cracking down and seeing some heads roll. You know, he's got to get rid of these people at the head of these agencies where so many things, obviously, are amiss," she said. "Our president has poor management skills."
Carney sidestepped questions about potential disclosure of sensitive information as well as whether the scandal was an isolated incident or a symptom of a broader problem in the culture of the Secret Service, which was investigating the incident.
"The President does not want to, and I certainly don't want to, get ahead of the conclusions of the investigation, make broader judgments while the investigation is still underway," Carney said.
UPDATE 6:48 p.m. ET: This post has been updated to include details from the Secret Service's formal announcement regarding the additional agents placed on leave, the agent cleared of serious misconduct, and the additional agent placed on administrative leave.
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