Senior Republican calls for Secret Service chief to resign

Agency director heard a low vote of confidence from lawmakers

By Eileen Sullivan and Alicia A. Caldwell
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior Republican lawmaker called for Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to resign, and a senior Democrat said he is not comfortable with her leading the agency, as support for Pierson eroded Wednesday in the wake of her poorly received testimony about the White House break-in.

House Speaker John Boehner stopped short of calling for Pierson's resignation in a statement, but backed a call for an independent investigation and said, "the president must make a swift determination on whether the agency is being well-served by its current leadership."

"Unfortunately, the Secret Service director's appearance before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee has left us with more questions than answers," the Ohio Republican said. "The more we discover, the clearer it becomes that the Secret Service is beset by a culture of complacency and incompetence."

Two senior members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are seeking further information in the hours after a congressional hearing Tuesday in in which Pierson sought to explain the embarrassing White House security breach, but failed to satisfy lawmakers.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, told Fox News Channel: "It's time that she be fired by the president of the United States or she resign."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, said in an NPR interview that Pierson "is not the person to lead that agency," echoing similar comments he made in other interviews on Wednesday. He later clarified that he felt that if Pierson can't restore trust among her agents, "then she should go."

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added her voice to calls for an independent investigation, arguing that the president's protection must be precise and flawless.

"There has to be accountability when that is not the case," Pelosi said.

The Sept 19 incident involving a Texas Army veteran who jumped the White House fence and was able to make it deep into the Executive Mansion before being stopped is now just one of several embarrassing disclosures about lapses in presidential security involving the Secret Service.

Despite more than three hours of questioning by House lawmakers on Tuesday, Pierson neglected to mention another security breach that occurred just days before.

On Sept. 16, a security contractor armed with a gun who had previously been arrested for assault rode on an elevator with Obama and his security detail at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, violating Secret Service protocol. It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether the contractor, who was not identified by name, had actually been convicted of a crime. The Washington Examiner and The Washington Post reported details of that breach and reported that the guard had been convicted, just hours after Pierson finished testifying at the House hearing. A convicted person generally is not allowed to carry a gun.

A Secret Service spokesman confirmed the Atlanta elevator incident late Tuesday but did not elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation of the episode. It was not clear whether the president or Pierson herself knew about the incident until recently.

Pierson on Tuesday had heard a vote of low confidence from the lawmakers, who called at that time instead for additional reviews into the agency's incidents. The chairman of the House committee with oversight responsibilities for the Secret Service called for an independent commission to do a "top-to-bottom" review of the agency.

At the hearing, Pierson said she is the one who briefs Obama on threats to his personal security and said she had briefed him only once this year, "for the Sept. 19 incident." She also disclosed that shortly before the alleged intruder, Omar J. Gonzalez, scaled the fence at least two of her uniformed officers recognized him from an earlier troubling encounter but did not approach him or report his presence to superiors.

On Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped while carrying a small hatchet near the fence south of the White House, Pierson said.

Lawmakers were aghast, too, about a four-day delay in 2011 before the Secret Service realized a man had fired a high-powered rifle at the White House, as reported by the Post on Sunday.

Pierson told the hearing the security plan for protecting the White House was not "properly executed" on Sept. 19 when the intruder sprinted across the White House North Lawn and through the unlocked front door of the mansion, knocking over a Secret Service officer and then running past the staircase that leads to the first family's residential quarters. He ran through the East Room before being tackled by a Secret Service agent near the entrance to the Green Room. The Post reported Tuesday that the agent was off duty at the time and just happened to be in the area.

The Secret Service's story about the extent of that breach changed late Monday night after the Post reported that Gonzalez got well past the front door of the White House. Previously it had said Gonzalez had been stopped just inside the front door. After hours of questioning Tuesday, it remained unclear what and when Pierson and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson knew about the incident. The Secret Service is part of the Homeland Security Department.

Three days after the breach, Johnson described it as "events on the North Lawn of the White House."

No one has been fired or demoted since the Sept. 19 White House intrusion.

Published: Thu, Oct 02, 2014


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