Secret Service Head Faces Questions 09/30 06:10
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most Washington scandals that end up on Capitol Hill tend
to end the same way: with an apology.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson will face lawmakers Tuesday for the
first public accounting of the details surrounding an embarrassing and
worrisome security breach at the White House earlier this month that, according
to a congressman, was worse than the Secret Service has publicly acknowledged.
The question is, will she follow the script?
At the very least, Pierson will have to explain how a man armed with a small
knife managed to climb over a White House fence, sprint across the north lawn
and dash deep into the executive mansion before finally being subdued. And she
is certain to face tough questions about why members of Congress briefed by the
agency apparently weren't told of the full extent of the breach when she
appears before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Monday night that whistleblowers told his
committee that the intruder ran through the White House, into the East Room and
near the doors to the Green Room before being apprehended. They also reported
to lawmakers that accused intruder Omar J. Gonzalez made it past a female guard
stationed inside the White House, Chaffetz said.
"I'm worried that over the last several years, security has gotten worse ---
not better," Chaffetz said.
In the hours after the Sept. 19 fence-jumper incident, Secret Service
spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that Gonzalez had been
apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House. The agency
also said that night the Army veteran had been unarmed --- an assertion that
was revealed to be false the next day, when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had
a knife with him when he was apprehended.
The Secret Service declined to comment on the latest details to trickle out
of the investigation of the embarrassing security breach.
It was not clear late Monday what Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
was told about the extent of the incident.
Senate Judiciary Committee staffers who were briefed about the investigation
by the administration a week after the incident were never told how far
Gonzalez made it into the building, according to a congressional official who
wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation and requested anonymity. The
official said the committee later was told that the suspect had, indeed, made
it far beyond the front door.
Chaffetz said his committee's request for a briefing from the Secret Service
on the incident was denied, a response he called "disappointing and
Asked whether he would seek an apology from Pierson, Chaffetz said, "We're
going to let things play out (Tuesday)."
Pierson's predecessor, Mark J. Sullivan, apologized to lawmakers in 2012
after details emerged of a night of debauchery involving 13 Secret Service
agents and officers in advance of the president's arrival at a summit in
Colombia. Sullivan retired about 10 months later.
Details of how far Gonzalez got into the White House were disclosed Monday.
Citing multiple unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported that Gonzalez
ran past the guard at the front door, past a staircase leading up to the
Obamas' living quarters and into the East Room, which is about halfway across
the first floor of the building. Gonzalez was eventually "tackled" by a
counter-assault agent, the Post said.
Getting so far into the building would have required Gonzalez to dash
through the main entrance hall, turn a corner, then run through the center
hallway halfway across the first floor of the building, which spans 168 feet in
total, according to the White House Historical Association.
Since the incident, the White House has treaded carefully. Although White
House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the president was "obviously
concerned" about the intrusion, he expressed confidence in the Secret Service
as recently as Monday.
It would be untenable for any president, not just Obama, to pointedly
criticize the men and women who put themselves at risk to protect his life and
family. That inherent conflict of interest means Congress, not the executive
branch, is the most effective oversight authority for the Secret Service, its
agents and officers.
"The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the
safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence
in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job," Earnest