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Amid Scandal, Secret Service Director Resigns


Somewhere among the events of the last several days, maybe it was the guy getting over the White House fence.


Or the revelation that he made it well inside the White House.

INSKEEP: Or the news about the man with the gun in the elevator with the president.

CORNISH: Somewhere it all got to be too much for Julia Pierson to withstand; the head of the Secret Service resigned.

INSKEEP: And the new interim director faces questions about how to reform. Here's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The Secret Service has now gone through the full cycle of a Washington scandal. There was the incident - a man jumping the fence at the White House and running into the Executive Mansion, the drip, drip, drip of ever more damning news and the fiery congressional hearing featuring criticism like this from Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch.


REPRESENTATIVE STEPHEN LYNCH: I wish to God you protected the White House like you protected your reputation here today.

KEITH: Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were unsatisfied with then Secret Service Director Julia Pierson's testimony.

JULIA PIERSON: We all are outraged within the Secret Service of how this incident came to pass, and that is why I have asked for a full review. It's obvious; it is obvious that mistakes were made.

KEITH: And finally there was the ritual falling on the sword. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says Pierson offered her resignation to her boss, the Homeland Security secretary, because she believed it was in the best interest of the agency.

JOSH EARNEST: The secretary agreed with that assessment as did the president because of the recent and accumulating reports. They raised legitimate questions about the performance of the agency. Those reports led the secretary and the president to conclude that a new direction was necessary.

KEITH: First the Secret Service said the fence jumper wasn't armed. It turns out he had a knife and a bunch of ammunition in the trunk of his car. Then it came out that, no, he wasn't apprehended just inside the unlocked White House doors. He actually ran through the Executive Mansion, right past the stairs that lead to the first family's living quarters.

But it seems the incident that really doomed Pierson happened three days earlier, when President Obama ended up on an elevator with a convicted felon carrying a gun. That's not OK. But what's worse, White House officials weren't told about it until two weeks later, just shortly before news reports went live online. Jason Chaffetz is a Republican congressman from Utah.


REPRESENTATIVE JASON CHAFFETZ: As a member of Congress, I shouldn't hear about it before the president of the United States. And I think that's what's fundamentally wrong.

KEITH: Chaffetz appeared on CNN last night and said Pearson's resignation was only the beginning.


CHAFFETZ: This is a deep-seeded problem; it's not going to be fixed in a day, but this is an agency that can never ever make a mistake. So they've got to get their act together and do it and do it fast.

KEITH: That starts with the newly named acting director, Joseph Clancy. Until 2011, he was in charge of the president's personal security detail. Another announcement from the Obama administration yesterday, an outside panel will be asked to look at White House security. It will also make suggestions for a new director, possibly including someone from outside the agency. If that were to happen, it would be a major shift. Elijah Cummings is a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. He says the culture at the Secret Service needs to change.

REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS: What I'd like to see is a person who, number one, has the full confidence of the president. Number two, someone who is extremely competent and, number three, someone who can gain and earn the respect of the members of the Secret Service. I think that's what we need right now.

KEITH: An initial review of the fence-jumping incident is due November 1, and the panel will be asked to submit its findings by the middle of December. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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