A genuine threat would be a crime and referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution, Lanier said. A comment made in jest would be disciplined as conduct unbecoming an officer, she said.
“If it was a threat, it was criminal,” Lanier said.
The officer under investigation, whom authorities have not named, works on motorcycle escorts and has been with the force for about 17 years, Lanier said. She said that he was put on paid desk duty and that his badge and gun were revoked after the alleged threat was reported to a supervisor by another officer.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling to Virginia with President Obama on Friday morning that he was “aware” of the alleged threat.
The comments were said to have been made over breakfast at a downtown restaurant with at least five officers present. They allegedly involved shooting the first lady, according to police officials.
A group of officers from the Special Operations Division were at the restaurant when the conversation turned to the first lady, the police officials said.
Several police officials said they had received initial reports that the officer used his mobile phone to display a picture of the firearm he intended to use. Those officials later said he may have used an application on his phone that makes the sound of gunfire.
Lanier declined to address whether a photo of a gun was shown or other details. She also declined to discuss where the conversation took place or how many officers have been interviewed during the investigation.
“It is very early on,” she said. “We are not 100 percent sure what the statement was that was made.”
On Friday, Lanier addressed the possibility that the officer’s alleged statement was intended as humor.
“There’s absolutely no place for jokes that could be perceived as a threat to the first lady” or anybody else, Lanier said. “That’s not funny,” she said, adding that her department’s officers “get it.”
Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan declined to comment on the investigation Friday.
The Special Operations Division performs escorts for the first family and other dignitaries. The department takes pride in that work and does it “flawlessly,” Lanier said.
The allegation of a threat has left officers across the force frustrated and angry, she said. If proven true, “the outrage and hurt” in the department “cannot be overstated,” Lanier said.
“You don’t say things like that, especially when you have access to the South Grounds [of the White House] and a gun on your hip,” said a Special Operations officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. “It’s a black eye to our unit. It’s an embarrassment.”
In a Friday interview on NewsChannel 8, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) called the allegations “serious.”
“We don’t know whether there’s any truth to this or not, but it’s obviously serious enough to warrant a very intensive and immediate investigation, which is now underway,” Gray said. “We hope to have information as quickly as we possibly can.”
Justin Jouvenal and David Nakamura contributed to this story.