President Biden on Wednesday announced that he had selected a new director for the U.S. Secret Service, an agency that has been under increasing scrutiny in recent months and faced a dramatic spotlight in the hearings of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Biden said in a statement that he had selected Kim Cheatle, who rose through the ranks during 27 years with the agency and served on his security detail when he was vice president. Cheatle, currently an official with PepsiCo, will become the agency’s second female chief in its 157-year history.
“Jill and I know firsthand Kim’s commitment to her job and to the Secret Service’s people and mission,” Biden said. As she served on his detail, Biden said, “We came to trust her judgment and counsel.”
Cheatle rose to become the first woman to serve as the agency’s assistant director of protective operations, one of the most prominent jobs in the Secret Service.
“She is a distinguished law enforcement professional with exceptional leadership skills, and was easily the best choice to lead the agency at a critical moment for the Secret Service,” Biden said. “She has my complete trust, and I look forward to working with her.”
The announcement came several weeks after Secret Service Director James Murray announced he was stepping down to accept a job as chief security officer for California-based Snap Inc., owner of the Snapchat social media site.
The move also came after high-profile, often unwelcome incidents for the agency, which is charged with protecting top U.S. officials, including former presidents, as well as visiting foreign dignitaries.
Two Secret Service employees who had been dispatched to South Korea for Biden’s trip there in May were involved in conduct that ended in a confrontation with South Korean citizens. The incident happened while the agents were off-duty, but they returned to the United States and were placed on administrative leave.
A month earlier, agency leaders acknowledged that four Secret Service employees — including an agent assigned to protect first lady Jill Biden — had allegedly been hoodwinked by two men impersonating federal agents who plied them with gifts.
In recent weeks, Secret Service agents have featured in dramatic testimony before the House Jan. 6 committee.
Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that she was told that President Donald Trump lashed out at his protective detail when agents would not take him to join his supporters marching toward the Capitol, at one point lunging for the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle.
Officials have said on the condition of anonymity that the Secret Service agents take issue with some details of Hutchinson’s account — and are prepared to do so under oath — although they do not dispute the notion that Trump was angry and wanted to be taken to the Capitol.
When Murray announced his departure last month, White House officials said it was not connected to the congressional hearings.
The only other woman to head the Secret Service was Julia Pierson in 2013-2014, who resigned after security lapses eroded President Barack Obama’s confidence in her.
Cheatle has held a number of roles in the agency, including her job as part of the Vice Presidential Protective Division, and in 2021 Biden awarded her with a Presidential Rank Award. She is currently a senior director at PepsiCo North America overseeing facilities, personnel and business continuity.