By Sydni Dunn | LSU Student
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, in his first reaction to the recent prostitution scandal among Secret Service and military personnel in Columbia, called the incident "a very, very serious situation" but skirted specific questions about involvement of the military which his Armed Services Committee oversees.
The scandal made headlines in mid-April after Secret Service agents and military personnel invited upwards of 20 prostitutes to Hotel Caribe in Cartagena where they stayed while providing advance security for President Barack Obama's weekend visit.
Since it surfaced, investigations have been conducted by both the Secret Service and the Pentagon. The Pentagon, as of April 17, is investigating 10 military personnel from three different military branches for misconduct.
But Vitter declined to address the military's involvement when questioned Monday at LSU, saying only his committee does not have jurisdiction over the Secret Service, in spite of several clarifications about the question centering on the military.
"That's Secret Service, which technically isn't the Armed Services or under our committee's jurisdiction, so the committee and who I work with on the committee, we don't have any direct oversight, but clearly it's a very, very serious situation."
According to the Senate committee's mission statement, the Armed Services Committee has jurisdiction in "the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of the Air Force, generally … "
Friday, National Public Radio congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook predicted this would be Vitter's reaction when she addressed a crowd at WRKF's Distinguished Speaker Series.
"Your Senator is in a very bad position because he cannot address the Secret Service scandal," Seabrook said of Vitter in response to a question from the audience. "He would be a natural person to come to, but I would have to explain he used to see prostitutes in D.C. but has never addressed that and has said nothing about it."
Vitter, who was on campus to speak at LSU's Inaugural Engineering Dean's Lecture Series, was outed in 2007 by Hustler magazine after his phone number was found on a client list for an escort service owned by the "D.C. Madam."
The magazine's staff contacted Vitter's office following the discovery, and he issued an apology, calling the hiccup a "very serious sin."
Vitter won re-election in 2010 despite the incident. In his first campaign, he advocated family values, abstinence-only education and a ban on same-sex marriage.
" … The D.C.Madam is charged and thrown in jail, and we still have a sitting Senator that used this very service, and there is an inequality there that I won't stand for," Seabrook said.
Vitter stressed the severity of the Columbian scandal but said it's "too early to tell" if the situation is being properly investigated. He said this won't be able to be evaluated until full reports on the investigation are released.
"Secret Service is not military," he again emphasized. "But clearly it's very problematic because they are involved in the president's and other's security, but that's not part of the military … that doesn't make it any less serious, though."
In regard to an appropriate punishment for government personnel engaging in prostitution, Vitter said it depends on the findings. "Several folks have left the service already …" he said.
Katherine Terrell contributed to this report.