As bad as President Obama likely felt upon hearing that Secret Service agents sent to Colombia to prepare for his arrival were involved in a sex scandal, former President Bill Clinton may have been just as dismayed.
The incident has allowed comics and cartoonists to joke that had Clinton been president, he might have joined the hotel party in which Secret Service agents, and perhaps U.S. military personnel, allegedly cavorted with prostitutes. No, the “bimbo eruptions” will never be forgotten.
But this is no joking matter.
The agents involved may not have broken the law, since Colombia tolerates prostitution in designated areas, apparently including Cartagena hotels where cash-carrying tourists and other visiting gringos are likely to congregate. However, their alleged conduct was not only a breach of agency rules; it was dangerous.
Obama had not yet arrived for a summit with Latin American leaders when the April 11 incident occurred. But what if the fact that Secret Service agents had consorted with prostitutes been used to blackmail one into providing information that would later jeopardize the president’s security?
Several planned investigations into the incident appear to be justified. But as Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of a House oversight committee, said, the emphasis must be on the policies and procedures that opened the door to the episode. “Things like this don’t happen once if they didn’t happen before,” he said.
What the public doesn’t need is the earful about Colombian prostitutes they’re likely to get from Obama’s political opponents, who see the incident as ammunition to oppose his reelection. Similarly, voters can expect his foes to blame Obama for what appear to be the excesses of one General Services Administration official, who authorized a lavish Las Vegas junket for GSA employees in 2010.
That doesn’t mean the president should get a complete pass. He didn’t invent bad behavior by federal employees. Heck, Andrew Jackson had more than a few of such workers, and his predecessors would likely say "me, too."
But the public does tire of presidential candidates who promise to bring a breath of fresh air to Washington only to later sniff the same odor. The guilty within the Secret Service and the GSA must pay a price.