Today at the White House: April 23, 2012

A new week brings new questions about the Secret Service and the safety of the president.

Posted: 04/23/2012 04:51 PM EDT

National security concerns here and abroad were the focus of the Obama administration’s attention today. The president began the day with a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum where he announced a new effort to impose sanctions against foreign nationals who use technology to commit human rights abuses. 


Syria and Iran are two countries specifically pointed out as using technology to keep a grip on dissenters among their own people. The president also announced new sanctions against the two countries. He said, "In short, we need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities — because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people."


The press corps had questions about whether the scope of these actions might extend to other countries. White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “The executive order targets two countries. It does not include others but we have a very clear stand about human rights abuses by other countries.”


But the majority of questioning today surrounded the ongoing investigation into allegations that several members of the Secret Service were involved in a prostitution scandal before the president’s trip to Columbia. The probe has expanded to include an internal review by the White House Counsel’s office to see if any members of the president’s advance team were involved.  But Carney says, so far, White House staffers appear to be in the clear. “Out of due diligence, the White House Counsel's office has conducted a review of the White House advance team, and in concluding that review, came to the conclusion that there's no indication that any member of the White House advance team engaged in any improper conduct or behavior,” said Carney.


The administration has been steadfast in its support of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, while at the same time maintaining a healthy distance from the escalating scandal. 


An African-American woman is at the center of the ongoing probe. Secret Service supervisor Paula Reed helped launch the investigation into the incident. Although the White House did not offer official numbers about the presence or absence of women on the official security detail, reporters wondered if more gender diversity might have helped avoid the scandal. “Assessments of the institution, culture, broader questions about the mission, I think need to be held in reserve while this investigation into a specific incident is completed,” Carney said. 


This week, be on the lookout for the president to continue his push for Congress to act before student loan interest rates double for more than 7.4 million students, adding an average of $1000 to their debt. On Tuesday, the president will visit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado at Boulder. He will make another stop in Iowa. The White House released numbers that put the impact on Black students into better view. An estimated 1.5 million African-American students who use loans to pay for college could be affected by the rate spike. Each year that Congress doesn’t act, students rack up an additional $1,000 in debt over the life of their loan.   


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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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