A top member of President Obama’s Secret Service detail under investigation for his conduct during a White House bomb threat probe notified the agency this week that he plans to retire, according to officials familiar with his decision.
The decision by Marc Connolly came ahead of the public release of a report concluding that he and a colleague were “more likely than not” impaired by alcohol on the night of March 4 as they drove into a temporary barricade and directly beside a suspicious package that was under investigation as a possible bomb, the investigative report says.
The findings are scheduled to be the subject of a congressional hearing Thursday. They prompted Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy to place both men on administrative leave pending decisions on possible disciplinary actions, the officials said.
The investigation found that Connolly, the No. 2 on Obama’s detail, and George Ogilvie, a supervisor in the Washington field office, had spent five hours at a downtown bar before returning to the White House on the night of March 4, according to the report, which was reviewed by The Washington Post.
The pair had first attended a work party at which free drinks were available. Later, Ogilvie paid an additional bar tab for 14 alcoholic drinks, mostly Scotch, although Ogilvie could not account for who had consumed most of the beverages, the report says.
The men both denied drinking to excess that night. But, in stark terms, the report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general faults the agents for poor decisions and cites numerous witnesses who said they believed that one or both of the agents appeared intoxicated.
The report cites accounts from some officers who said they smelled alcohol near the agents, and others who did not. Some officers recalled a supervisor who had questioned the agents that night describing the men as “hammered.”
In addition, the report pointed to a potential systemic problem, noting that a watch commander’s decision not to order a sobriety test on the senior agents could have resulted from the agency’s “reputation for punishing or ignoring those who would further investigate or report such violations.”
The report describes how “two highly experienced Secret Service supervisors drove into a crime scene inches from what the rest of the Secret Service was treating as a potential explosive device, and which, under different circumstances, could have endangered their own lives and those of the [uniform division] officers responding.”
Investigators concluded that “it was more likely than not that both Connolly’s and Ogilvie’s judgment was impaired by alcohol,” the report says.
Larry Berger, an attorney for Connolly and Ogilvie, said he had not seen the report but that it would be “wholly irresponsible and inaccurate” to conclude that the agents were intoxicated or engaged in misconduct.
Berger declined to discuss Connolly’s and Ogilvie’s job status.
Clancy believed after reviewing an internal copy of the report last week that Connolly had committed a serious offense warranting a penalty, according to two law enforcement officials, but no formal decision had been reached. Connolly, a 27-year veteran, decided to retire. Officials are still considering whether and how to discipline Ogilvie, according to officials.
“I am disappointed and disturbed at the apparent lack of judgment described in this report,” Clancy said in a statement to The Post. “Behavior of the type described in the report is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” he said. “Our mission is too important. We owe it to the other 99% of Secret Service employees who perform their duties every day ethically and with dignity.”
The inspector general’s report says that a reasonable person would have inferred “something was amiss” at the White House that night based on several clues, including the checkpoint and the barricades at the entrance.
The investigators noted that Ogilvie, who was driving, had to drive his car in a semicircle to get around the temporary bike-rack barricades, and then use his car’s fender to push a barrel more than five feet out of the way.
“This was no mere ‘bump’ but rather extended contact to shove the barrel out of the way,” the report says. “Additionally, apparently unknown to Ogilvie, his car passed within inches of the suspicious package.”
The report says that Connolly told a senior supervisor that night that he had “f--ked up” and failed to notice alerts on his BlackBerry about the suspicious package investigation that was occurring on the compound.
The investigation also found that numerous high-ranking Secret Service supervisors chose not to report the incident, and that it was omitted from a daily report of significant events at the compound provided to Clancy.
The officials’ silence left Clancy, the newly named Secret Service director, in the dark for five days while rumors of the incident spread among current and former Secret Service employees. Ultimately, a retired agent and friend of Clancy’s called him March 9 to tell him about the allegations.
The incident was first reported by The Post on March 11.
Clancy told lawmakers in March that he would hold those involved in the incident accountable after learning the results of the inspector general’s investigation.
In a statement to The Post this week, Clancy said he wants to restore the Secret Service’s stellar reputation.
“The Secret Service has and will continue to institute policies and practices to address employee misconduct and demand the highest level of professionalism of all employees,” he said.
But, according to the inspector general’s report, some aspects of that night remain in dispute.
For instance, the watch commander in charge of the complex that night, Michael Braun, told investigators that while he recalled seeing a glassy-eyed Connolly in the passenger seat, he had determined that Ogilvie was safe to drive. Braun said he questioned the men but allowed the men to go.
But Braun’s account was disputed by lower-ranking uniformed officers on the scene, who said that Braun described the two agents as “hammered” when he returned from questioning them at their car. Officers said Braun told them he was not ordering a sobriety test because it would be “a career killer.” The report does not specify whether the officers felt Braun was referring to his career, or those of the agents.
In interviews with investigators, Braun denied making those statements.
Connolly ended up retrieving his car and driving home that night, the report says.
The inspector general’s report argues that this was a bad way to handle a possible violation of law and policy, but it acknowledged the awkward situation Braun was facing. Braun reported up the chain of command to Connolly.
“It would have been far preferable if he had ordered a field sobriety test or made other inquiries to establish both agents’ fitness to drive,” the report says. “However, the watch commanders’ actions must be considered in light of the vast disparity in rank . . . and the Secret Service’s reputation for punishing or ignoring those who would further investigate or report such violations.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), whose committee has been investigating the Secret Service and is holding a hearing on the March 4 incident Thursday, said accountability is pivotal to restoring integrity and confidence in the agency.
“There was obviously egregious behavior and no one was fired,” Chaffetz said. “What does it take to get fired at the Secret Service? This is a defining moment for Director Clancy. We will be closely monitoring how he holds his senior personnel accountable.”