- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
The director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, abruptly resigned Wednesday after revelations of a series of frightening security breaches in the protective bubble that is meant to safeguard President Barack Obama and his family prompted widespread calls for her ouster.
For an administration that often refuses to abandon top officials in the early days of a scandal, Pierson’s firing happened at lightning speed.
"Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it," Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement. "I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation."
Pierson had come under mounting criticism in the days since Omar Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran with a history of criminal behavior, hopped the White House fence and penetrated deep inside the building on Sept. 19. The Secret Service first downplayed the incident, but then had to admit that Gonzalez had more than 800 rounds of ammo in his car as well as hatchets and a machete, parked near the White House.
The agency long revered as one of the nation’s most effective law enforcement institutions took another hit Tuesday when the Washington Examiner reported that the elite agents specifically assigned to protect Obama let an armed man ride an elevator with the president during an event in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In another mishap, the agency dismissed the firing of seven bullets into the White House in 2011 as backfire "from a nearby construction vehicle," according to the Washington Post, but the damage wasn’t even discovered until an usher pointed out the bullet holes. First lady Michelle Obama was reportedly furious with the agency’s bungled response. No witnesses were interviewed at the time of the shooting.
For days, the White House insisted that Pierson and the agency had the full support of the president, but in the last 24 hours, a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), called for her scalp.
"The president is not well served…. I think this lady has to go," Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, told radio host Roland Martin.
"If Mr. Cummings thinks she should go, I subscribe to his recommendation," Pelosi said.
Taking her place in the interim is Joseph Clancy, the former special agent in charge of the presidential protective division of the Secret Service.
In his statement, Johnson handed responsibility for the ongoing inquiry into the fence-jumping incident to Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and said the review should be completed by Nov. 1.
He also announced the formation of a panel of independent experts to look into the Sept. 19 incident and broader issues facing the agency. Pierson was the first female director of the Secret Service. She was tapped by President Obama in March 2013 after a wave of prostitution scandals rocked the agency.