The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig has delivered two terrifying stories in the last 24 hours that should enrage every American. Yesterday, she detailed how it took four days for the Secret Service to realize that a gunman had fired at least seven bullets at the White House on the evening of Nov. 11, 2011. Today, she reports that the alleged White House fence-jumper didn’t just make it inside the front door. He barreled his way into the East Room of the executive mansion before he was tackled by agents. The hot seat awaiting Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, at tomorrow’s congressional hearing looking into the Sept. 19 intrusion better feel like an inferno.

Leonnig’s masterful reporting of the events surrounding the 2011 shooting of the White House reveals a string of heart-stopping failures, missteps and false assumptions. Heart-stopping because they belie the Secret Service’s fearsome image as an elite force that protects the president of the United States. President Obama and the first lady were out of town, but their daughter Sasha was at home with her grandmother. Malia was expected home any minute after Oscar Ortega-Hernandez fired his semiautomatic rifle at the south side of the executive mansion. Of all the details in story, this one is the newsmaker.

It took the Secret Service four days to realize that shots had hit the White House residence, a discovery that came about only because a housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor.

But other revelations in the story are even more troubling. At the time, there was “little camera surveillance on the White House perimeter.” Officers who heard the gunshots, saw evidence of gunshots, even smelled gunpowder in the air near the scene were told, “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down.” Leonnig reports that a supervisor “said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.”


After Ortega crashed his car, a homeless man told a Secret Service agent who arrived on the scene that he saw “a young white male running from the vehicle after the crash and heading toward the Georgetown area.” But, somehow, “police began looking for the wrong people: two black men supposedly fleeing down Rock Creek Parkway.”

Here’s another preposterous tidbit. The Secret Service initially theorized that the gunfire wasn’t meant for the White House. According to Leonnig’s report, agency supervisors “theorized [that] gang members in separate cars got in a gunfight near the White House’s front lawn.” Seriously? As Leonnig notes, that touristy part of town would have been rather quiet on a holiday Friday after 9 p.m. Fear of being criticized stopped Secret Service Officer Carrie Johnson, who was under the Truman Balcony of the White House when the bullets hit, from voicing disagreement with the version of events presented at the next day’s roll call.

Ortega was still at large four days later when Michelle Obama, who had returned to the White House from Hawaii, first learned of the matter from assistant usher Reginald Dickson, who described what happened. Leonnig reports that he thought Mrs. Obama knew.


The man who believed Obama to be the “anti-Christ” and must be killed was found in a Pennsylvania hotel and arrested the next day. But that did nothing to quell the understandable anger from the first couple.

The first lady was still upset when her husband arrived home five days later from Australia. The president was fuming, too, former aides said. Not only had their aides failed to immediately alert the first lady, but the Secret Service had stumbled in its response.
“When the president came back . . . then the s— really hit the fan,” said one former aide.
Tensions were high when [then-Secret Service Director Mark] Sullivan was called to the White House for a meeting about the incident. Michelle Obama addressed him in such a sharp and raised voice that she could be heard through a closed door, according to people familiar with the exchange. Among her many questions: How did they miss bullets from an assault rifle lodged in the walls of her home?

That’s not an unreasonable question. These revelations come after Post reporters David Fahrenthold and Leonnig wrote about the missteps that allegedly led to Omar Gonzalez jumping the White House fence on the North Lawn. And they come as we now learn that Gonzalez allegedly made his way deeper inside the mansion than originally reported. The first family had left the South Lawn on Marine One for Camp David 10 minutes earlier.

President Obama expressed support for the Secret Service last week and thanked them for all they do for him and his family. But I wrote at the time that I was having a hard time believing that cool, calm and collected Obama wasn’t raising hell behind closed doors. Leonnig’s incredible tick-tock of the events of Nov. 11, 2011, shows my hunch was right.

Now that we know Gonzalez made it deep inside the residence, it is imperative that Pierson do everything possible in Tuesday’s House hearing to repair the agency’s tattered reputation and regain the trust of the American people. The service gets so much right. But all it takes is one murderous mistake to change everything.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj