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Details Emerge Of Security Breach During Obama's CDC Visit


Secret Service director Julia Pierson was on Capitol Hill today to answer questions from lawmakers about security breaches at the White House. But in the hours since Pierson testified, new reports have emerged with details of yet another potential security breach. NPR's Juana Summers is on Capitol Hill and she joins us now. And, Juana, what's the latest on this story?

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: The Washington Post and Washington Examiner report this evening that a security contractor with a gun and prior assault convictions was actually allowed on an elevator with President Obama during a trip to Atlanta. Of course that would be in violation of the Secret Service's protocols. And this reportedly occurred as the president was visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. Now, of course lawmakers are not here on Capitol Hill, but we are hearing from one of them and that is Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. He has been leading the investigation into the September White House security breach. And tonight on Twitter he says that a whistleblower told him this report was true. You've also just heard from a law-enforcement official who tells us that the information in the Examiner and The Post is generally accurate, but that there is an investigation ongoing to ascertain more details about the incident.

SIEGEL: Now, Juana, earlier today, the Secret Service director was on Capitol Hill. What did lawmakers have to say to her?

SUMMERS: Now, this hearing actually ended before the latest revelations, but lawmakers made it very clear that they're angry and frankly frustrated with the Secret Service's failures. And this was not partisan. Republicans and Democrats equally lashed into Julia Pierson, she's the Secret Service director. They said that she and her agency had not been taking seriously their duty to protect the president. Congressman Stephen Lynch, who's a Democrat from Massachusetts, was one of the most vocal.


CONGRESSMAN STEPHEN LYNCH: This is the Secret Service against one individual with mental illness, and you lost. You lost. And you had three shots at this guy, three chances. And he got to the Green Room in the White House. What happens when you have a sophisticated organization with nefarious intent?

SIEGEL: And what was the response from the Secret Service to that?

SUMMERS: To that, Pierson started off her appearance on Capitol Hill by personally taking responsibility for these White House security breaches.

JULIA PIERSON: It's clear that our security plan was not properly executed. This is unacceptable and I take full responsibility, and I will make sure that it does not happen again.

SUMMERS: Now, Robert, there she was speaking specifically about the agency's response on September 19 when Omar Gonzalez scaled the White House fence and made it across the lawn into the mansion. The Secret Service had initially said he'd been tackled just inside, but he actually got much further. However, that's not the only topic lawmakers really pushed Pierson on. They questioned her repeatedly about her leadership and whether or not she could actually repair the culture of the Secret Service. It's of course an agency that has had a lot of high profile incidents over the last few years. A couple that come to mind - a lone gunman fired shots at the White House in 2011. There was of course the prostitution scandal in Colombia in 2012. And, more recently, this March, there was a night of drinking that led to three agents being sent home from a presidential trip to Amsterdam.

SIEGEL: We heard what the members of Congress made of it, what about the White House? Does the president still have confidence in the Secret Service?

SUMMERS: As of 2 p.m. this afternoon, White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted that the president does have confidence in the Secret Service and he also said that confidence absolutely extends to Secret Service director Julia Pierson. Ernest said that Pierson's shown a commitment to leading an agency with a really tough mission. Of course that was several hours ago, and we're hearing now from a law-enforcement source that they are looking for new details about these latest report. So that is something that could of course change and we'll be looking forward to future briefings.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Juana Summers on Capitol Hill. Juana, thank you.

SUMMERS: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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