The Obama administration is investigating allegations that two senior Secret Service agents, including a top member of the president’s protective detail, drove a government car into White House security barricades after drinking at a late-night party last week, an agency official said Wednesday.
Officers on duty who witnessed the March 4 incident wanted to arrest the agents and conduct sobriety tests, according to a current and a former government official familiar with the incident. But the officers were ordered by a supervisor on duty that night to let the agents go home, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive internal matter.
The episode presents an early test for the Secret Service’s new director, Joseph P. Clancy, who was appointed by Obama last month after a string of security lapses at the White House and other embarrassing missteps and had vowed to restore the agency’s once-stellar reputation.
Clancy on Monday directed that the inquiry be led by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, in part because the incident involves such senior officials, a law enforcement official said.
Agency spokesman Brian Leary confirmed the investigation after questions from The Washington Post, saying the Secret Service was “aware of the allegations of misconduct involving two of our employees.” He declined to specify which allegations are the focus of the inquiry.
“If misconduct is identified, appropriate action will be taken based on established rules and regulations,” Leary said. He added that the agency “will fully cooperate” with the inspector general’s office.
The incident drew a bipartisan rebuke late Wednesday from two lawmakers leading an investigation into the Secret Service, who said it cast doubt on whether enough has changed at the troubled agency.
“Although recent steps have been made to bring new leadership in at the highest levels, this incident begs the question of whether that is enough,” Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman and the ranking Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a joint statement. “The fact that this event involved senior-level agents is not only embarrassing but exhibits a clear lack of judgment in a potentially dangerous situation.”
An administration official said that in “recent days,” the White House had been “made aware of the allegations and the steps being taken by the Secret Service to ensure that the incident is thoroughly investigated.”
The agents under investigation are Mark Connolly, the second-in-command on Obama’s detail, and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office.
Through the Secret Service spokesman, Connolly and Ogilvie declined to comment.
An agency official said the two employees had been moved to “non-supervisory, non-operational assignments.” They were not put on administrative leave, which has been a typical procedure when agents are under investigation for alleged misconduct.
The incident happened about 10:30 p.m. on the White House compound near 15th Street NW and Freedom Plaza, as D.C. police officers and Secret Service officers were trying to clear the scene because of an investigation of a suspicious package, according to the people familiar with the incident.
Witnesses reported that the car’s overhead flashing lights had been activated and both agents were showing their badges to get through the section of the grounds that had been closed off, according to people familiar with the incident.
The vehicle ran through security tape before hitting the barricades, which an agency official said had been set up temporarily during the investigation of the package.
Secret Service rules prohibit turning on flashing lights without a security reason and driving a government vehicle after drinking alcohol.
The two men had been attending a party at a nearby downtown Washington bar to honor the retirement of departing Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan.
Two people familiar with the incident said it was probably captured on Secret Service video. They said all of the agents’ activities on that part of the compound would have likely been streamed live to the agency’s emergency command center.
The incident violated security protocols, according to several veteran agents. At the time that the agents allegedly drove into the barricade, disrupting an active investigation, officers had not yet determined whether the suspicious package was a threat.
If a civilian drives through a White House security barrier, officers are trained to release an attack dog or point loaded guns at the driver.
In October 2013, a Connecticut woman was shot and killed by police after she rammed a temporary security barrier outside the White House with her car and led police on a chase that ended with both Capitol Police and Secret Service officers firing multiple rounds and killing her. Her 1-year-old child was inside the car but was not hurt.
Last week’s incident is the first major misstep to take place since the management shake-up that began last October, when Julia Pierson abruptly resigned as director in the weeks after a man was able to jump the White House fence and race through much of the mansion’s main floor.
Clancy took over as acting director, moving later to force out much of the senior management team.
An independent panel created by the Department of Homeland Security to examine the Secret Service’s problems strongly recommended late last year that the president choose an outsider as the new director. The panel said the agency was “starved for leadership” with fresh perspectives.
But Obama went with a trusted hand, picking Clancy, a 27-year veteran of the agency who had headed Obama’s security detail early in his administration and who had also worked with Connolly.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.