WASHINGTON – An enraged Democratic congressman blasted Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, bluntly questioning her competence following the latest breach of White House security.
During a congressional hearing Tuesday morning, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., delivered a scathing rebuke of Pierson, lamenting, “I wish to God you protected the White House like you protected your reputation here today.”
He accused the director of “not taking your job seriously.”
“I hate to be critical, but we’ve got a lot at stake here. I have very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership,” the Democrat concluded.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-N.Y., was equally caustic, citing a patter of lax security and pointedly accusing Pierson of having committed a disservice to President Obama by putting him and his family at risk.
Earlier, Pierson did admit the Secret Service plan for protecting the White House had failed, calling it unacceptable and promising, “I’ll make sure that it does not happen again.”
But lawmakers found plenty more to criticize than a failed plan.
Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., opened the House Oversight committee hearing into the Secret Service response to the White House security breach on Sept. 19 by calling the service’s initial claim that an unarmed intruder was apprehended just inside the front door “false.”
Under intense questioning by Issa, Pierson repeatedly refused to explicitly admit the report was false.
However, she did acknowledge as much, giving an account that differed from her department’s initial report, one that paralleled a description of the incident reported Monday in the Washington Post.
Issa said it wasn’t until the Post story was published the night before that his committee learned the man who jumped a gate and entered the White House carrying a knife actually made it far deeper into the building than previously known. The man reportedly rushed past a guard inside the White House and ran through much of the main floor before finally being tackled by a counter-assault agent.
The chairman expressed amazement that not only had “an intruder walked in the front door of the White House,” but he penetrated at least five rings of security at what should be one of the most secure buildings in the world.
“How on earth did that happen?” he wondered aloud and called for an independent investigation into Secret Service performance.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, blasted the Secret Service for initially portraying the actions of agents as showing “tremendous restraint,” saying, instead, “overwhelming force” is what the situation required.
“Don’t praise them for that. That’s not the goal. That’s not what were looking for,” Chaffetz thundered.
He insisted that if intruders can’t be stopped by dogs or agents, something else is needed.
The congressman did not blame agents themselves.
“It seems like a lapse of leadership,” Chaffetz said, adding that “at least this member of Congress” will have their backs.
In her opening statement, Pierson admitted the agency’s security plan “was not properly implemented” and said she took full responsibility for the incident.
She said she immediately ordered security enhancements that night to ensure such an incident will not happen again, but stated she could not go into details due to security concerns.
However, Pierson also admitted there have been six White House fence-jumpers just this year.
The Post reported three people familiar with the latest incident said the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, after jumping the White House fence and springing across the lawn, burst through the unlocked front door, ran by the stairway leading to the first family’s living quarters, then entered the 80-foot long East Room and reached the door to the Green Room before he was finally tackled.
A Secret Service agent told the paper an alarm box at the front door was muted at what they believed was the request of the usher’s office.
As far as is known, Gonzalez is the first White House fence jumper to make it inside the residence.
Under questioning by Chaffetz, Pierson admitted a pair for Secret Service agents did identify Gonzalez outside the gate on the day of the breach, Sept. 19, having recognized him from a previous encounter on Aug. 25.
The congressman asked if the agents reported the sighting to superiors.
She said the agents “noted it but did not approach him.”
Chaffetz asked if that meant the agents did not report the sighting, and the director admitted that was true, saying that he did not appear to be acting “inappropriately.”
The congressman asked about the sighting because the Secret Service was well aware of Gonzalez, having had two previous encounters recently.
The Secret Service interviewed Gonzalez in July after Virginia state troopers, during a traffic stop, found he had a sawed-off shotgun, numerous other firearms, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a map of Washington with a circle drawn around the White House. Gonzalez was released on bail.
He was questioned again on Aug. 25 while walking outside the White House fence and carrying a hatchet, but he was not arrested.
Congressional candidate and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino told Fox News he blamed cumbersome government bureaucracy and “a jurisdictional mess” for the incident.
The author of WND Books’ New York Times bestseller “Life Inside the Bubble,” defended his former colleagues, saying, “The security plan for fence jumpers has worked flawlessly for decades,” stopping hundreds of jumpers.
But, he added, “It was only a matter of time before someone did that and, sadly, made it to the front door. I hate to say it.”
“Now, I’m not apologizing for this, it was a security failure,” cautioned the former Secret Service agent who guarded both Obama and President George W. Bush.
But he cited the problem of “dealing with an entirely new bureaucracy” in the Department of Homeland Security.
Bongino said when the Secret Service was part of the Treasury Department, it was “a pretty big fish in a small pond,” but the pressures of now dealing with an “overly bureaucratic government … has very real consequences, as seen by this incident.”
While recounting previous Secret Service security lapses, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., mentioned the deadly shooting of Miriam Carey on Oct. 3, 2013, saying some criticized the performance of the Secret Service while others praised their “quick action.”
WND has published more than 50 stories on the incident and has contacted scores of members of Congress for comment on the Carey case but has received not one response.
Carey, an unarmed suburban mother, apparently drove into a White House entrance by mistake, tried to make a U-turn, was chased by numerous Secret Service agents and Capitol Police officers and shot dead near the Capitol.
Carey family attorney Eric Sanders told WND the latest White House security breach, with the intruder reaching all the way into the living quarters, supports his belief Carey’s death was caused by lax enforcement practices by the Secret Service.
Authorities declined to bring charges against agents and officers in the Carey shooting, and police and the Justice Department, which reviewed the incident, have refused to release the investigative report describing what happened and why deadly force was used.
WND inquiries to dozens of members of Congress into whether that report should be released also have gone unanswered.
Rep. Trey Gowdy also grilled Pierson on why the Secret Service did not investigate several shots fired into the White House on Nov. 11, 2011.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that a superior told Secret Service agents to stand down after hearing gunshots near the White House. The superior said it had been a car backfire.
The Secret Service took four days to realize shots had been fired into the White House, after a housekeeper discovered broken glass.
The day after the shooting, agents complained they were afraid to contradict their superiors’ mistaken assertion there no shots had been fired.
Issa called that “a major problem,” and Pierson acknowledged, “It’s unacceptable.”
Pierson has been in charge of the Secret Service for a year and a half.