Facing his first grilling on Capitol Hill since being named the Secret Service’s permanent director, Joseph Clancy said Tuesday that he was dismayed by the latest allegations of misconduct at his agency — the case of two senior agents suspected of being intoxicated as they drove onto the White House complex.
Clancy said he was “very frustrated” that he didn’t hear about the March 4 incident until five days later and promised to hold his staff accountable when an investigation is complete. He told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee that he learned of the incident not from his own staff but from an e-mail from an anonymous whistleblower.
Clancy, who was previously head of President Obama’s security detail, said he had a “good stern talk” with his deputies on Monday to spread the word that there is “no excuse” for failing to report incidents of possible misconduct.
“Anytime you have a senior level on the president’s detail who is alleged to have even come through a secure area, as he did that evening, I should have been informed,” he said.
Clancy was called back last fall to temporarily take over the agency’s helm amid a series of worrisome security lapses. Obama made his appointment permanent last month.
At the hearing, Clancy confirmed the general outline of the allegations that his agency first began to investigate when he learned of them March 9.
“What I heard initially, the initial reports from an anonymous report was that . . . two seniorlevel special agents had crashed into the White House and they were inebriated,” he said. He asked his staff members what they knew, and they said they hadn’t heard about it.
“I asked them to get as much information as they could on the events,” Clancy said.
They learned that two senior agents — including the second-in-command of Obama’s detail — were returning to the White House from a work party sometime after 10:30 p.m., with one driving the other in a government car, Clancy said. The whistleblower had asserted that the two agents had hit a barricade, Clancy said.
He said he later reviewed portions of surveillance tape capturing the agents’ arrival in the government car. He said it appeared that the two men drove onto the compound, traveling at a slow speed, and then hit an orange barrel set up as a temporary barricade, without knocking it over.
Clancy mentioned that the car was believed to have traveled through “a secure area.” He did not provide more detail.
The Washington Post, which first reported the investigation into the incident, also reported that the men crossed into an area near the 15th Street entrance that police and officers had cordoned off that night because a woman had thrown a package onto the White House grounds and yelled to security officers that it was bomb. A bomb squad had been called to check it for explosives or other hazards, according to a police report. The squad, at roughly 11:45 p.m., determined that the item was a book wrapped in a shirt.
Clancy said he had referred the matter to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general last week to ensure an independent probe.
On Tuesday evening, the chair and ranking Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said they would conduct their own investigation into the incident after reviewing some of the surveillance tape of that night and would hold a hearing with Clancy next week. Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the tape makes “crystal clear” that the agents interrupted an investigation by driving within feet of what was threatened to be a bomb, but the tape leaves many questions unanswered.
“We’re talking about the life of the president,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). “We need to conduct at least preliminary research. You can’t have one weak link.”
Clancy stressed Tuesday that he did not know all the facts of the incident. For example, he said he knew that the agents were not given sobriety tests but could not say whether a supervisor on duty had ordered that the tests not be conducted. Clancy said he had not interviewed his watch commander in charge of the White House complex that night about what he witnessed or did.
Clancy said “there will be accountability” for any staff member engaged in misconduct and said he is “frustrated that I can’t act until we get all the facts because I know that our workforce is waiting.”
“I don’t have the ability to just fire people at will,” he said Tuesday. “I cannot terminate people this afternoon.”
Several lawmakers demanded to know what Clancy was going to do to send a signal that such behavior is unacceptable and reform a culture that has appeared to tolerate heavy drinking and misconduct — as his two predecessors promised to do as well.
Clancy acknowledged that alcohol is sometimes the stress reliever of choice for some segment of the agency staff.
“We’ve got to find a way to help some of these people that are going towards alcohol . . . as a coping mechanism,” he said.
Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, retorted: “I’m more concerned about the health of the president of the United States and who’s protecting him from harm.”
Others stressed that Clancy appeared to need a new strategy to instill ethical and professional conduct.
“Whatever has been put in place, whatever has been done in the past obviously is not working,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
Clancy said changing the culture will take time.
“And I think that’s a long-standing process, possibly, where people don’t want to relay bad information,” he said.
Rogers said a shake-up appears necessary.
“This will not stand,” he said. “Just when we think we’ve assessed the problems associated with September’s White House fence jumper and developed a plan to close existing gaps in security moving forward, news broke that two agents drove around a security barricade at the home where our president lives during an active bomb investigation.”
Several lawmakers said they wished Clancy well but that his subordinates failed him at the least by not passing this information to him.
“Your actions, in my judgment, should be punishment, termination, firing people who have subordinated their command. You can’t run an agency like this, for God’s sakes, or any other agency unless you have discipline in the ranks,” Rogers said. “And this is a breakdown, to put it mildly.”