It’s been almost a week since news broke that Secret Service members had been caught after spending a night with prostitutes in Colombia, and at this point nobody disputes the basics: guys who should have known better seriously messed up. But the flurry of news coverage surrounding the incident has provided a fractured and at times contradictory picture of what exactly happened that night in Cartagena.
Indeed, even Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), members of the House Oversight Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan asking for a long list of further information “so that the Committee can develop a more complete factual record and better understand whether the culture of the U.S. Secret Service may have led to this incident. Meanwhile, both the agency and the military (military personnel were also involved) have investigators trying to piece it all together.
Below, we reconstruct the timeline of events as we understand them so far, even and especially the parts of the episode about which conflicting information has emerged, to try to figure out the questions that still need asking about the scandal that has rocked the Secret Service.
April 10th or 11th — Secret Service agents and members of the U.S. military supporting security operations arrive in Colombia ahead of President Barack Obama’s planned arrival on Friday, April 13, for the Summit of the Americas, according to Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who, as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has been briefed on the episode. (New York Times)
Those involved in the controversy were members of Secret Service “jump squads” which deploy to a location before the protectee arrives. They joined an advance team which included White House staffers, members of the military, and embassy officials who had been there for two weeks, according to The Washington Post. There were nightly “countdown meetings” in the lead up to Obama’s arrival. The men had “ample downtime” for a few days with just a handful of planning meetings and rehearsal walk-throughs, according to the Post. (Washington Post)
April 11 — Secret Service officials booked a party space at the Hotel Caribe, telling hotel staff they expected about 30 people. (ABC News)
That night, a 24-year-old single mother from Colombia, along with another woman, is approached by a group of men at what the The New York Times describes as a “discotheque.” The woman later told the Times that the group of men had ordered 2 bottles of Absolut Vodka for their table.
“They never told me they were with Obama,” she told the Times.
One of the men in the group eventually invites the woman back to his hotel room at the Hotel Caribe. “She agreed, stopped on the way to buy condoms but told him he would have to give her a gift,” the Times reports. The woman later says they agreed on $800. (New York Times)
MSNBC offers a different version: that two agents from the Secret Service’s Counter Assault Team “procured the women’s services at a local strip club called the Pley Club.” An official says all the Secret Service personnel in the scandal are believed to have gone to the club and brought back women.
As many as 20 other women signed in at the front desk of the Hotel Caribe, where policy required them to leave their identification cards. (New York Times) According to MSNBC, the hotel makes all guests pay a $25 fee for bringing guests back to their rooms.
The Post, meanwhile, says some of the men paid for the services of at least two women while still at the Pley Club.
April 12 — The 24-year-old escort is awakened at 6:30 a.m. by a call from the hotel front desk telling her that she had to leave under the establishment’s rules for prostitutes.
According to what the woman told the Times, the man she was with told her he’d been drunk when they established a price. He offers her 50,000 pesos, or around $30. She “pressed the matter,” (“I tell him, ‘Baby, my cash money,’”) then he ordered her out of the room. She went across the hall, where a friend had spent the night with another man in the group. Together, they knocked on the first man’s door. No response. The 24-year-old threatened to call the police. The second man asked them not to. On her way out of the hotel, the first woman crossed paths with a police officer, and together with an English-speaking officer, they went back to the room. Two other American men then emerged from their rooms. A hotel security guard arrived. The woman lowered her demand to $250. The American man gave her $225 in mixed currency, and she left. (New York Times)
According to MSNBC, however, the “controversy arose” when a woman went to a hotel room with two agents, and wanted to be paid for servicing both. The agents wanted to split her price. The woman complained to local police in the hotel lobby, and officers then went to the agents’ room. Two sources told the network that police contacted the U.S. embassy, and that embassy officials later arrived on the scene. (MSNBC)
Embassy officials alerted Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, who ordered the agents involved to fly home. (MSNBC)
Taxi driver José Peña said he picked up two women at the hotel at around 9:30 a.m. He told the Times that the women said they met a group of five Americans the previous night at a club named Tu Candela and they were invited back to their hotel at 4 a.m. (New York Times)
Friday, April 13 — Air Force One, carrying President Barack Obama, lands in Cartagena at 4:34 p.m., having taken off from Tampa. (White House pool report)
Evening, Friday, April 13 — The Washington Post reports on the investigation.
In a statement issued late Friday, the Secret Service said accused agents were relieved of their assignments, were being sent back to their place of duty and were being replaced by other Secret Service personnel. (Secret Service statement, TPM)
Saturday, April 14 — The 11 Secret Service personnel recalled because of the incident are interviewed at agency headquarters. (Secret Service statement, TPM)
Monday, April 16 — Members involved in the incident — including agents and uniformed officers — are stripped of their security clearances, per MSNBC.
Wednesday, April 18 — The Secret Service announces the departure of three employees. One is expected to resign, another, a supervisor, intends to retire. A second supervisor has been recommended for firing, according to a statement. The remaining eight agents are still on administrative leave.
“Although the Secret Service’s investigation into allegations of misconduct by its employees in Cartagena, Colombia, is in its early stages, and is still ongoing, three of the individuals involved will separate or are in the process of separating from the agency,” said Paul S. Morrissey, the assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service Office of Government and Public Affairs, in a written statement.