Yesterday, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson testified that the frightening intrusion into the White House by a knife-carrying fence-jumper would not happen again on her watch, The members of the House Oversight Committee found themselves less than impressed with Pierson, with both Republicans and Democrats expressing their dissatisfaction with the agency’s performance under her direction. Chair Darrell Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings rarely agree on anything, but they concurred that the Secret Service investigation into the incident was unsatisfactory, and plan to issue a demand for an independent investigation.
Just as Pierson wrapped up her testimony, the Washington Examiner dropped another bombshell on Pierson’s agency. Just a few days before the fence-jumper intrusion, the President’s protective detail inadvertently allowed an armed security guard at the CDC to ride in an elevator with Barack Obama — and the man turned out to be an ex-con:
The previously undisclosed breach, confirmed by two sources familiar with the case, raises new questions about the agency’s ability to protect the president.
The incident, which took place three days before an intruder jumped a fence and sprinted inside the White House, involved a failure in Secret Service advance work to prevent an armed man from coming into close proximity with Obama while he was visiting the CDC to receive a briefing about the Ebola threat.
The Washington Post followed up with the report that the private contractor also had a criminal record — three convictions for assault and battery, in fact:
The private contractor first aroused the agents’ concerns when he acted oddly and did not comply with their orders to stop using a cellphone camera to record the president in the elevator, according to the people familiar with the incident.
When the elevator opened, Obama left with most of his Secret Service detail. Some agents stayed behind to question the man and then used a national database check that turned up his criminal history.
When a supervisor from the firm providing security at the CDC approached and discovered the agents’ concerns, the contractor was fired on the spot. Then the contractor agreed to turn over his gun — surprising agents, who had not realized that he was armed during his encounter with Obama.
Extensive screening is supposed to keep people with weapons or criminal histories out of arm’s reach of the president. But it appears that this man, possessing a gun, came within inches of the president after undergoing no such screening.
Apparently, the first time that Obama heard about this was … when the Washington Examiner reported it:
Obama was not told about the lapse in his security, these people said. The Secret Service director, Julia Pierson, asked a top agency manager to look into the matter but did not refer it to an investigative unit that was created to review violations of protocol and standards, according to two people familiar with the handling of the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The review couldn’t do much, since the agents on the ground never bothered to file the necessary reports:
Secret Service managers told agents on the ground in Atlanta not to file a written report after discovering that a convict with a gun rode in an elevator with President Obama during his visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sept. 16, according to two sources familiar with the case.
The president’s Secret Service protective detail and other agents routinely file written reports if anything even mildly suspicious happens during a presidential trip or in the course of protecting any member of the first family at the White House on any given day. …
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson asked a senior officer to stay behind in Atlanta to handle the situation but there was no formal review of the matter.
Under normal circumstances, one would expect the immediate cashiering of Pierson by the President, especially since it was himself and his family put most at risk by the obvious dysfunction in the Secret Service. Yet earlier this morning, press secretary Josh Earnest went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to defend Pierson, which looks a lot like the Obama administration’s typical circle-the-wagons response to incompetency made obvious. That may not work in this instance, as a different segment of the same show hinted. A clearly disgusted Elijah Cummings told Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski that he found Pierson’s testimony and job performance so disturbing that he had trouble sleeping last night:
Cummings cited difficulties in training, protocol, and morale, all of which point back to Pierson, who’s been there for two years. Cummings said that he has lost confidence in Pierson’s performance, and he’s not the only one. Cummings said another panel member told him during the hearing, “This sounds like the Keystone Kops.”
I would not be surprised if Pierson discovers a deep need to spend more time with her family by the end of the week.