A California man arrested after jumping the White House fence and walking up to its grand south entrance carrying Mace was in federal court Monday amid continuing questions over how he got so close to the executive mansion without being challenged.
President Trump was in the residence at the time of the breach.
The accused intruder, Jonathan T. Tran, 26, of Milpitas, Calif., faces a maximum of 10 years in prison on one count of entering restricted grounds while carrying a dangerous weapon after his arrest at about 11:38 p.m. Friday.
Jonathan Wackrow, a 14-year Secret Service employee who served in former president Barack Obama’s detail and now works in the private sector, called the incident a “gut punch” to an agency still recovering from a 2014 incident in which Omar Gonzalez made his way deep into the executive mansion before being tackled by an off-duty agent in the East Room.
“What has changed in three years?” asked Wackrow, who works as executive director of risk-mitigation company RANE and is also a CNN commentator. “Zero.”
As in the intrusion by Gonzalez, Wackrow said, multiple layers of protection had to fail for Tran to be able to approach the presidential residence after surveillance video is said to show him jumping a fence near the Treasury Building on East Executive Avenue.
Tran was arrested carrying two cans of Mace, a book on Trump, a U.S. passport and a laptop containing a letter addressed to Trump about Russian hackers saying Tran had found “information of relevance,” according to a criminal complaint filed Saturday.
Tran stated he had jumped the fence and added, “I am a friend of the president,” Secret Service officer Wayne Azevedo wrote in an affidavit.
In his letter, Tran also said that he has “been called schizophrenic,” was being followed and that his phone and email were being read by others.
At the Monday hearing in Washington, Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather released Tran under the condition that he report for supervision to the federal court in San Jose, Calif., and be subject to GPS monitoring, a mental health evaluation and, if necessary, treatment. His next hearing in Washington is set for April 13. Both sides waived indictment pending plea talks.
Prosecutors requested and the defense also agreed that Tran not travel more than 100 miles from his home in Milpitas, stay away from the White House at all times and from the District except for his case, and to not possess a firearm, destructive device or dangerous weapon.
Tran’s supervised release under restrictions is not uncommon: A Connecticut man who eventually pleaded guilty to jumping the White House fence draped in a flag in 2015 was released to the custody of his mother as his case proceeded, and conditions also were set for the supervised release of a Florida postal worker who landed a gyrocopter at the U.S. Capitol in a 2015 protest before pleading guilty to a charge of flying without a license.
Tran, appearing in an orange jail shirt and pants and answering questions clearly, said he had no job, did not own a home or car, and did not have more than $50,000 in savings or investments; he was appointed a public defender. Tran said he had taken no medication recently that would impair his understanding of the hearing, although when asked whether he had any medical condition that would do so, he said, “I don’t believe so.”
News reports surfaced from relatives over the weekend saying Tran was troubled and had been living in his car since being laid off from his job at an electrical engineering firm. He had no prior criminal record or contact with the Secret Service, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
Trump on Saturday praised the service for doing “a fantastic job last night” responding to a “troubled person,” as security experts called the incident the latest warning of ongoing vulnerabilities at the Secret Service’s most visible and sensitive post.
Wackrow said in addition to defeating newly installed “pencil-point” spikes atop the fence at the property that are intended to slow down would-be jumpers, Tran’s alleged incursion should have triggered intrusion detection and video surveillance alarms. Tran also would have “walked by multiple uniformed division posts at The White House,” Wackrow said.
“All of those things did not react to this individual traversing a significant amount of distance at the White House,” Wackrow said. If failures were not tied to the technical security system, then personnel did not respond properly despite known vulnerabilities, he said.
“This could have had absolutely deadly and tragic consequences,” he said. “This could have changed history. Thankfully it didn’t.”
In an email, the Secret Service declined to comment about the incident.
“As a matter of policy the USES does not comment on active investigations,” the agency said. “Further, the USES does not discuss its means, methods or capabilities with regards to its protective operations.”