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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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MR. GREGORY: Good morning. There are new details this morning in the prostitution scandal involving the Secret Service and the U.S. military. Here is the very latest. Now 12 Secret Service agents and 11 members of the U.S. military have been implicated in the scandal. Six agents have already been forced out of the Secret Service, including two supervisors. We're told investigators from the Secret Service and the Pentagon have sought to interview some of the 21 Colombian women who were involved. They've obtained security video from the Hotel El Caribe and have been able to identify the women. And the man you see there, director of the Secret Service Mark Sullivan, briefed the president in the Oval Office on Friday. Jay Carney, the president's spokesman, saying unequivocally that the president quote has "faith in the Secret Service and high regard for the agency." So that's where things stand.

Where is it going? Joining me now, Republican congressman from Califorma--California, rather, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa and Republican congressman from New York, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Peter King.

Welcome to both of you.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY): Good morning. Good morning, David.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA): Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman King, let me start with you. Where is this headed? Ultimately, will everyone involved lose their job?

REP. KING: I would say anyone who is found to be guilty will. As you know, there was one of the 11 has been partially exonerated and he will probably not be terminated. He will face administrative action. But I would expect within a very near future to have several other Secret Service agents leaving the agency of those 11, and there's, you know, one other person's been added on. So Director Sullivan from the moment this broke has moved effectively and this investigation is going full speed ahead. There are many, many agents in Colombia interviewing the women involved, interviewing the hotel employees. There's, I believe, hundreds of Colombian and--police are assisting the Secret Service in this. So it's going all out and from every indication I've seen from the moment this scandal broke until now, there's no attempt to cover anything over. Everything is being--every lead--possible lead is being examined.

My staff, I began an investigation last week. I've sent a detailed letter to Director Sullivan with a list of questions that we need to be answered. We're in contact with the Secret Service and other sources of law enforcement and from all I've seen so far, this investigation is going at a very proper rate and is going to be carried all the way and it has to be.

MR. GREGORY: But Congressman King, what else needs to be known? What else do you want to know?

REP. KING: Well, first of all, we have to know exactly what happened, when it began, who was involved, who in the chain of command found out about it and what they did. Secondly, we have to make sure that there is--there were no security violations, that nothing was made available to anyone other than Secret Service, that there was no--the president was never compromised and no, no information was ever made available to anyone else. Then we have to find out what is going to be done to ensure or to minimize the possibility of this ever happening again because I have great regard for the Secret Service. I believe Director Sullivan has done a fine job, but the fact is that you can't allow 11 men like this to tarnish what, what--the great reputation of that agency and we have to make sure that others are not doing it and that precautions are put in place and procedures in place to ensure it never happens again.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Issa, let me pick up on that point. Are others doing it? Have others done it in the past? Where does this investigation need to go in terms of whether other members of government who are involved in security or otherwise who, who make these kind of trips down there would be involved in this kind of activity?

REP. ISSA: Well, I think echoing what Chairman King said, we're looking over the shoulder of Mark Sullivan asking the director to do an exhaustive search, first of all, on this incident, but also to make sure from a human resource management standpoint, that whatever in the culture allowed people to think this was OK, this could happen, would be gone and gone forever. And I'm--I have great confident he's doing it. Obviously, nobody believes that something with 11 or 12 people involved couldn't have happened before. The real point is will we have confidence that it'll never happen again, particularly foreign nationals having access to our men and women in, in, in the Secret Service. That's the important part that the director is working on. Yes, these were prostitutes, which is awful and salacious, but they were also foreign nationals. Every one of these Secret Service people who had a contact with any foreign national of any sort would've had an obligation to report this potential problem. So obviously, you know, it's, it's bigger than that. But it's something that we believe that the Secret Service can fix. Our committees are going to look over the shoulder, make sure it's fixed, and then announce, as I think Chairman King is announcing, that we have confidence that it will be fixed.

MR. GREGORY: Does everybody have to be fired involved in your judgment, Congressman Issa?

REP. ISSA: Well, I think the individual decisions as the--Peter had said, you do have one individual who clearly made a decision that he wasn't going to participate once he knew the woman was a prostitute and that person will be disciplined for his poor judgment going down a road of drinking and taking a woman back to his hotel room. But possibly that one and others like it to be handled administratively. Again, the most important thing for all of us is this never happen again or anything like it because it could someday lead to a compromise if it isn't fixed.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman King, I think a lot of people look at this and say, first of all, the people you see around--the agents you see around President Obama, Vice President Biden, part of the protective detail, these were not the individuals who were involved. And of course, anybody like me, I've covered the White House for eight years under President Bush, you see first hand how first rate the Secret Service is.

REP. KING: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Nevertheless, these were not low level agents involved. You do have supervisors involved. Just what were they thinking?

REP. KING: Again, that has to be the question. And as Chairman Issa said, the key thing here is not that they were prostitutes, that makes it good, you know, for the tabloids. The fact that foreign nationals were brought back into a security area on the eve of the trip of the president of the United States goes against everything the Secret Service stands for and the fact there was supervisors involved, two of the 11 were supervisors, this is just wrong. There's no way it can be explained, condoned, excused in any way, it's wrong. And that's what has to be really a zero tolerance policy for this in the future. I'm confident Director Sullivan wants that as well. But again, we have to look into the entire matter. But I can't emphasize enough, the key issue here were the foreign nationals and what these supervisors were thinking, especially the supervisors, what they were thinking is beyond me since that is their--it's everyone's responsibility, but especially the supervisors' responsibility.

MR. GREGORY: The president a week ago reacted to this. Really the only thing he said about it publicly, directly, this is what he said in Colombia last Sunday.

(Videotape, last Sunday)

PRES. OBAMA: If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I'll be angry.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Chairman Issa, depending on what you find here, what do you want the president to do at the end of this?

REP. ISSA: Well, I think I want the president to do what Chairman King and I are doing: leave it to the professionals, look over their shoulder, make sure it's dealt with properly, and then let's move on. And remember, the Secret Service doesn't just protect the president, the vice president, the first family, they protect a host of other dignitaries and our Cabinet. And that's one of the reasons that we can't say, well, the elite weren't compromised. Every member of the Secret Service can potentially be an extremely important individual for protecting an equally important individual. So I think the president's anger, and I'm sure there is some, will be moderated by a recognition that this agency has to fix itself and that plenty of eyes are on it. He can focus on being president and, and let's move forward and put this sorry incident behind all of us.

MR. GREGORY: Do you both agree that Director Sullivan should keep his job?

REP. KING: I, I certainly do right now based on everything that I've seen so far.

REP. ISSA: I have confidence in him.

REP. KING: Yeah, I, I have full confidence in him, yes.

MR. GREGORY: Let me...

REP. KING: David...


REP. KING: David, I do expect, though, in the next day or so, I think you're going to see more Secret Service agents leaving. So I think this investigation's moving as far as those 11 very quickly. But I think Darrell and I would both agree it goes beyond the 11 as far as finding out what procedures are going to be implemented.

MR. GREGORY: What about culture, though? This is a piece of this. Back in 2002, U.S. News & World Report did a front page story investigating some of these cultural questions within a secret survey. This--Secret Service, rather--and this is what they found. Here was the cover story. In part they reported "A U.S. News investigation shows ... that the agency is rife with problems and resistant to oversight and correction. The troubles range from alcohol abuse and misuse of government property to criminal offenses and allegations of extramarital relationships by Secret Service personnel with White House employees. ... Secret Service agents assigned to the elite Counter Assault Team, which responds to any attack on the president, sometimes watch pornography on White House satellite channels in the `band room' in the basement of the executive mansion. ... In Miami and Ohio, according to sworn affidavits by several agents, the Secret Service supervisors brought professional strippers into the offices."

That's back in 2002. Do you think Congress has done its job in providing oversight, especially getting to some of the questions you're raising about a problem with the culture within the Secret Service?
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REP. KING: Which one? I'll take it.

MR. GREGORY: Go ahead.

REP. KING: I think overall the Secret Service does an outstanding job. I think you can always find incidents, you can always find, you know, things to be looked at. But the fact is this agency does a phenomenal job and there's always been people within an agency who can, you know, disclose this or that. The fact is they do a good job. But I agree, especially based on what we saw in Colombia, there will have to be more oversight. I think the Secret Service realizes that. But there has been oversight over the years and, you know, despite that story back in 2002, when you look over the last 10 years this has been a very outstanding organization. And I think under Director Sullivan's leadership it's been very powerful. Again, this thing in Colombia is something, you know, that really stands out.

MR. GREGORY: It's interesting in both the case of this scandal, but also the General Services Administration scandal, the use of Facebook and email in talking about these excesses. Here was an example, back to the Secret Service story, back in 2009. You had one of the Secret Service agents involved, Agent Chaney, posting on his site as he's protecting former candidate Palin, "I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean?" And Governor Palin responded to that on Fox this week.

(Videotape, Thursday)

FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK): Well, this agent who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and comments about checking someone out, well, check this out, bodyguard. You're fired.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And to go along with that, Chairman Issa, you also have in the case of the GSA this regional director at the center of this lavish spending in Las Vegas, Jeff Neely, who, who--this is the New York Post cover of it--this is a, a picture that he also posted as well, you know, when he's out here at this conference on taxpayers' dime. This use of Facebook, as if there's some corner of privacy that they have, is that part of what you want to look at?

REP. ISSA: Well, it certainly is a window into activity that we wouldn't otherwise have. But remember that the GSA scandal was uncovered by a hardworking inspector general who did a very, very good job and that's one of the points that I think the American people have to understand. We have about 12,000 IG personnel, 70-some official IGs that they work for, a $2 billion budget and it has to work on overtime to find these failures that exist throughout government.

The other thing we have, and this is the area that becomes a little more political, political appointees. Thousands of them are embedded throughout government. In this case at GSA you have political appointees handing out awards for this essentially bad conduct and over-the-top activity. You had a political appointee who was on her second term. Martha Johnson had been the chief of staff under Clinton, she comes back and she's got an entitlement attitude. These people are entitled to bonuses even after this behavior. That's where I'm very concerned that the IGs have to be able to report to Congress in a timely fashion, not 11 months later, and make, make us aware that there were problems and failures by the political appointees that are supposed to be the fresh eyes looking for, as the president said, scrubbing the, the spending in government. GSA didn't scrub anything, just the opposite. In the last three years of the Bush administration they had a budget of $700 million.


REP. ISSA: In the first three years of the Obama administration, $3 billion.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman King, I want to ask another Secret Service question. This is also taxpayer expense when it comes to presidential candidates. And Newt Gingrich is still getting Secret Service protection. Do you think, given the state of the campaign, it's a wise use of taxpayer funds to be having Newt Gingrich protected by the Secret Service?

REP. KING: Newt Gingrich is still a candidate, he was never my candidate, but the fact is the director has to make that decision. And I remember back in, I guess, 2007 it was when he decided that Senator Obama at that time was entitled to Secret Service protection. You know, that's up to the Secret Service. But again, once you're not a candidate you should definitely not be getting the protection. But Director Sullivan would not be making that decision--there's certainly no political pressure on him to do it--he would not be making the decision unless there was reason out there to do it and so long as Speaker Gingrich is still a candidate and Director Sullivan believes there are sufficient threats then he has to make those decisions. Those are really professional decisions.

MR. GREGORY: All right, I'm going to leave it there. Chairman Issa, Chairman King, thanks to both of you.

REP. KING: Thank you, David.

REP. ISSA: Thank you, David.

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