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Obama: 'Angry' if Secret Service allegations true

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CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) - President Barack Obama, speaking for the first time about allegations that Secret Service agents hired prostitutes, said Sunday that "of course I'll be angry" if those accusations are proven true by an investigation.

President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena, Colombia, Sunday, April 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Obama said the agents represent the United States and are supposed to conduct themselves with the highest levels of dignity anywhere in the world.

"Obviously, what's been reported doesn't match up to those standards," Obama said in a news conference wrapping his appearance at a Latin America summit.

The president never directly mentioned the specific accusations, confirmed by media outlets, that agents were cavorting with prostitutes before the president arrived in Colombia.

The Secret Service sent 11 agents home and placed them on leave for misconduct as the agency reviews what happened.

"I expect that investigation to be thorough, and I expect it to be rigorous," Obama said. "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. ... We are representing the people of the United States, and when we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards."

The unseemly topic dogged Obama to the end in Colombia, where he fought to keep a focus on America's trade relations with partners throughout the Americas. And it is likely to follow him back to the United States as lawmakers in the Republican-led House consider whether to hold hearings.

The top U.S. military officer also said Monday the nation's military leadership is embarrassed by allegations of misconduct against several U.S. military members at a Colombia hotel on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit over the weekend.

"We let the boss down," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference. He said he regretted that the scandal, which also involved 11 Secret Service agents accused of cavorting with prostitutes at the hotel, diverted attention from Obama's diplomacy at a Latin America summit.

"I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs: We're embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we're not sure exactly what it is," Dempsey added.

When Obama took a question about the topic, he was standing next to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Obama tried to put the controversy in context by lauding the agents who protect his life.

"These men and women perform extraordinary service on a day-to-day basis protecting me, my family, U.S. officials," Obama said. "They do very hard work under stressful circumstances and almost invariably do an outstanding job. So I'm very grateful."

He said he would reserve judgment until the investigation is done.

Expanding allegations

The number of U.S. military members under investigation for alleged misconduct may be greater than the five originally cited, officials said Monday.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday that he could not provide a specific number, but that military members who are being investigated were assigned to support the U.S. Secret Service in preparation for Obama's official visit to Cartagena.

He said they were not directly involved in presidential security.

"We believe that there may be more than five involved in this incident," Little said.

The Secret Service sent 11 of its agents home from Colombia amid allegations that they had hired prostitutes at a Cartagena hotel.

The military members being investigated were staying at the same hotel, Little said. 

Army Col. Scott Malcom, chief spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, which organized the military team that was assigned to support the Secret Service's mission in Cartagena, declined to say how many additional service members are under investigation.

He also would not say which branch of the military they were from. "We are still putting together all the facts," Malcom said.

A defense official in Washington said at least some of those under investigation are members of the Army.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under active investigation.

Malcom said a colonel from the Southern Command staff, whom he would not identify by name, had been sent to Cartagena to gather facts. He said at least five military members under investigation were being flown to Miami Monday.

 

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