‘Botched Response’ Has Lawmakers Questioning Secret Service Chief’s Job
Lawmakers allege the Secret Service botched a response to a March 4 bomb threat. Now, some are questioning whether recently appointed director Joseph Clancy is the man for the job.
Newly appointed Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy has been on the job for a little more than a month. But his ability to reform the troubled agency that protects the president is already under scrutiny.
During a marathon House Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans were furious — some went as far as to shout Clancy down — for what they called his failure to cooperate with an investigation into the events of March 4. That’s when two agents — Mark Connolly, the No. 2 man on President Barack Obama’s security detail, and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office — nudged a barrier with their car outside the White House during an investigation of a suspicious package. The two had been drinking earlier that evening. Clancy said he only heard about the incident when he received an anonymous email five days later alleging that the agents were “extremely intoxicated.”
As it turns out, that wasn’t the only thing the Secret Service did wrong that night. A D.C. police surveillance video shown at the hearing indicated that agents tailed the wrong car when trying to follow a suspicious woman who left a parcel at the White House gate. Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the suspect was allowed to escape and wasn’t captured for three days.
Chaffetz also said it took 11 minutes for the Secret Service to call the Washington bomb squad and that traffic was allowed to drive by the site for 17 minutes. Some pedestrians also walked within feet of the package, which was feared to be a bomb.
“I don’t understand how that happens,” Chaffetz said, calling it “a botched response.”
The missteps are part of institutional rot within the service — including a failed assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 — that resurfaced after security breaches at the White House last year. And Clancy, who once served as the head of Obama’s security detail, is bearing the brunt of lawmakers’ anger.
At issue Tuesday was Clancy’s failure to hand over surveillance tapes from the night in question. Lawmakers were also angry that the agency chief appeared before the panel alone, despite a bipartisan request for other agents involved in the incident to testify.
Clancy said he did not deliver the videos due to an internal investigation that is ongoing, but he promised that Congress would get them soon. He said he appeared solo because the agents involved weren’t prepared for the spotlight of a congressional hearing.
Those explanations did little to appease the panel.
“I’m simply disappointed we will not hear from the other Secret Service witnesses invited here,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
“I don’t think your appearance alone is sufficient for this hearing today,” added Chaffetz.
What followed was more than three hours of intense grilling by some lawmakers questioning Clancy’s ability to reform the service. A December 2014 Homeland Security report recommended that an outsider be brought in to lead the agency, but the president instead appointed Clancy, a 27-year veteran on the elite force.
His experience did little to prepare him for the onslaught he faced Tuesday. Clancy answered some queries with “I didn’t know,” and “I wasn’t aware,” despite having appeared before Congress twice before to answer questions about March 4. He also said he has yet to meet Washington police chief Cathy Lanier — an odd oversight, given how frequently their two jurisdictions overlap.
Even as he acknowledged an alcohol problem within the service, Clancy insisted he was capable of fixing the troubled agency and pleaded for more time.
Lawmakers insisted that agents be held accountable.
“Some people probably have to go,” Cummings said.
Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP