Agents' party before JFK slaying revisited
An investigation into alleged Secret Service misconduct should go deep into the past, but perhaps not as far back as alleged drinking by agents hours before the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, a congressional oversight committee member said on Thursday.
The investigation should include agents who served under George W. Bush, Republican Rep. Tom Marino of Williamsport told the Tribune-Review.
Marino, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security that oversees the Secret Service, spoke as reports surfaced that an unfolding prostitution scandal ensnaring a dozen agents and a dozen military members of President Obama's advance team might not be limited to Cartagena, Colombia.
KIRO-TV in Seattle, citing unnamed sources, reported alleged misconduct by agents at a San Salvador strip club prior to Obama's visit to El Salvador in March 2011. The Secret Service and Pentagon said they are looking into the unconfirmed report.
Alleged misconduct by one of the nation's most honored law enforcement institutions has some history, stretching to the night before an assassin shot Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Marino said any agency review might go back that far if it's "100 percent relevant."
Then-syndicated columnist and muckraker Drew Pearson reported in late 1963: "Six Secret Service men charged with protecting the President were in the Fort Worth Press Club the early morning of Nov. 22, some of them remaining until nearly three o'clock. ... They were drinking. One of them was reported to have been intoxicated."
While the agents drank, Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, slept in the nearby Texas Hotel. They had a busy day planned, with motorcades in Fort Worth and Dallas.
According to Pearson, press club President Calvin Sutton said he decided to keep the facility open past closing time to accommodate the traveling press corps and others. "We shouldn't have done it, but we did," he told Pearson. He said he was surprised when Secret Service agents arrived.
After the press club closed, agents "wanted to know where 'The Cellar' was, and I told them. But I did my best to discourage them," Sutton reportedly told Pearson. The Cellar, Pearson said, was an after-hours "beatnik" spot that officials said was not licensed to serve alcohol.
After Pearson's report, Secret Service boss James Rowley started an investigation. In some respects, Rowley found, Pearson understated the affair. Rowley learned that nine, not six, "special agents of the White House Detail were in the Press Club at various times and departed at various times up to 2:00 a.m." He said they drank only modestly, and the investigation found no evidence that any became intoxicated.
"The amount of beer and liquor consumed by any of them did not exceed one and a half mixed drinks or, in one case, three glasses of beer," he reported.
During the night, 10 agents made their way to The Cellar, where Rowley reported they consumed "coffee or fruit drinks." The club owner said some agents remained until 4:30 to 5 in the morning before the assassination. Kennedy was shot shortly after noon.
The late author William Manchester, in his book "Death of a President," reported: "Fellow drinkers during those early-morning hours included four agents who were to ride in the President's follow-up car in Dallas and whose alertness was vital to his safety."
Others, he said, included agents assigned to guard the president's hotel room door who became bored and joined the party.
Pearson's expose said "obviously, men who have been drinking until nearly three a.m. are in no condition to be trigger-alert or in the best physical shape to protect anyone."
Rowley told the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy's death, that Secret Service rules prohibited "the use of intoxicating liquor of any kind, including beer and wine, by members of the White House detail and special agents cooperating with them or by special agents on similar assignments, while they are in a travel status."
Unlike the agents on Obama's detail in Cartagena, the Kennedy crew escaped largely unscathed after Rowley's investigation and stern words from the commission.
Marino said he hopes any review by the House Homeland Security Committee would not turn into "a political witch hunt."
Agents he has worked with were "top notch," Marino said, though there's "always going to be someone who makes the rest of the group look bad." Still, Marino said, there should be no coverup, and any supervisor "who knew or should have known" about wrongdoing should be fired.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Consumer, core prices inch up
- Steelers’ defense on pace for fewest sacks in 16-game season
- Flyers continue mastery of Penguins at Consol
- Penn State defense returns to familiar spot atop Big Ten Conference
- Florida fugitive nabbed in Pittsburgh-area homeless shelter
- Canadians more fearful, aware after ‘very rare’ attack
- Pitt offense eyes healthy balance
- VA promotion for administrator stuns legislator
- Highmark seeks double-digit increase for more benefits, heavy use
- Contempt citation sought by state against Highmark for alleged violation of deal with UPMC
- PS New Kensington men’s soccer earns playoff win