Get ready for more contentious hearings on Capitol Hill over the dysfunction at the Secret Service — and just be thankful it will be more explosive in a figurative sense than the latest embarrassment might have been in a literal sense. Two Secret Service agents coming back to the White House after a party ran their car into a barricade on March 4th. The barricade was up as part of an investigation into a bomb threat, and the two agents — one of whom is the #2 man on President Obama’s security detail — drove right past the package:
Oddly, even though the agents who responded could smell alcohol on their breath, the supervisor allowed them to leave without taking a breathalyzer or sobriety test. Even more oddly, the Secret Service took four days to let the White House know about the incident:
But shortly before 11 p.m., the two high-ranking Secret Service agents, returning from a work party at a Chinatown bar about eight blocks from the White House, drove their government car through the crime scene. According to people familiar with the incident, they drove through police tape and then hit a temporary barricade, using the car to push aside some barrels. An agency official said Thursday that the car was not damaged.
The episode was caught on surveillance video. Investigators who reviewed the video of the incident initially said they could not be sure whether the pair drove very close to or over the suspicious item wrapped in the shirt, one law enforcement official said. But after reviewing more video later Thursday afternoon, the official said, they concluded that the agents’ government car drove directly next to the package.
Secret Service officers on duty that night considered the agents’ behavior to be erratic and suspected they were drunk, according to current and former officials familiar with the incident.
The officers wanted to arrest the agents — but a more senior supervisor at the complex told them to let the agents go, the officials said.
And yet …
Clancy placed the two senior agents involved in the incident in new “non-supervisory, non-operational” jobs pending an investigation — a less stringent approach than the service has taken in the past, when staffers suspected of misconduct were put on administrative leave or pressed to resign or accept demotion. Also, Clancy did not take action against a senior supervisor on duty that night who, according to officials briefed on the incident, ordered Secret Service officers to let the agents go home without giving them sobriety tests.
The supervisor not only didn’t have the two agents tested, but then apparently didn’t report the incident immediately — and he’s still on the job? That’s an odd decision by the new director, Joseph Clancy, who only has that job because of the failures of his two predecessors to clean up the dysfunction within the department. Clancy, who had been a member of Bill Clinton’s detail and ran Obama’s detail during a 27-year career with the Secret Service, was thought to be a tough insider who could re-instill discipline in the agency. Instead, it may be that Clancy is too much a part of the agency to truly crack down on malfeasance when it erupts … almost literally, in this case.
Whatever changes have been made — and a number of changes were made in the upper leadership two months ago — the message hasn’t gotten through.