Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy faced criticism from lawmakers Tuesday about his handling of the allegations that two agents disrupted a bomb investigation on the night of March 4 after driving into a White House security barrier.
Clancy, making his third appearance before a congressional committee in two weeks, acknowledged under intense questions from lawmakers that he did not directly ask his senior managers for details about the incident.
Clancy, who had previously said that he did not learn about the allegations until March 9, said Tuesday he had intended to await the findings of an inquiry by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general before deciding on possible discipline.
“In my mind, I gave this to the IG,” he said. “I was content to wait.”
But Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee complained to Clancy that, while he didn’t know what happened, he was standing in their way of finding out. They criticized his decision not to allow key agency supervisors on duty the night of March 4 to come to the hearing to answer questions.
Members said the lack of testimony from his supervisors, combined with Clancy’s acknowledgment last week that much of the surveillance video taken on the night of the incident had been recorded over, was making it difficult for Congress to scrutinize the seriousness and security risk of the event.
“This is not just another oversight hearing about just another agency,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee. “I admire this president greatly. . . . I do not want anything to happen to him under my watch — or under yours.”
Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that Clancy also declined last week to bring the top agent in charge of President Obama’s security detail, Robert Buster, to attend a closed-door briefing on the incident. One of the two agents involved was a top member of the president’s detail.
Chaffetz and several members said they also were frustrated that Clancy did not turn over a copy of the limited video footage the Secret Service says it still has from that evening.
“By refusing to allow the witnesses we invited to testify — with first-hand knowledge of the incident — Director Clancy is keeping Congress and the American public in the dark,” Chaffetz said. “It is unclear why Director Clancy is choosing at the start of his tenure to be so unhelpful to Congress.”
Much of what happened on the White House grounds after 10 p.m. on March 4 is unclear.
The two senior Secret Service agents had attended a colleague’s retirement party that night, and later drove onto the compound and into the temporary barricade blocking off an active investigation of a threatened bomb, officials have said.
The inspector general is investigating allegations that Secret Service officers guarding the compound wanted to conduct sobriety tests on the agents but were ordered to let them go, officials have said.
The episode has presented a test for Clancy, a long-time Secret Service veteran who was called out of retirement last fall to take over following a string of embarrassing missteps. Obama chose Clancy as the permanent new director last month, and has vowed to restore the agency’s reputation.
Clancy said Tuesday he “can’t wave a magic wand” and fix all the cultural problems and significant distrust of leadership inside the agency. He said the Secret Service has been “my life’s work,” and he said that he is committed to restoring the agency to its early elite status.
But lawmakers told Clancy they were disappointed in his performance following the March 4 incident.
Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) said he was surprised to learn that Clancy had not sought information from his top deputies and remained concerned about the agency’s practice of recording over surveillance video.
“I’m a little bit more than troubled by the willful ignorance here,” Lynch said. “You don’t ask questions and then you destroy evidence.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) asked Clancy if he chose not to ask more questions “so you could pull a Sgt. Schultz, and say you know nothing?”
Chaffetz also said documents turned over to the committee by the Secret Service on Monday suggest that the agency “botched” its handling of the bomb inquiry that night.
For 17 minutes on the night of March 4, Chaffetz said, the Secret Service did not secure the area after a woman threw the suspicious package on the grounds, as dozens of cars drove by the area on the busy downtown Washington street and several pedestrians walked within feet of the package.
The woman had yelled that it was a bomb and was able to flee the scene, according to a police report. Chaffetz said the Secret Service waited 11 minutes to call the Metropolitan Police Department’s bomb squad, but did not specify that someone had claimed it was a bomb.