The White House on Thursday said the Secret Service “took the precautions necessary” to ensure President Obama’s safety during this week’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said he could not discuss the steps taken by the Secret Service ahead of the president's visit, and refused to say whether there are standard protocols to vet individuals with whom the president appears.
But Carney said he could assure the public "that when the president travels, notably when he travels abroad and especially in a circumstance like that … the Secret Service works very hard to take the necessary precautions."
Carney said that the he never heard the president express concern about the translator's behavior during their trip to South Africa.
He referred further questions about the incident to the Secret Service, which has declined to comment thus far.
The interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, drew attention when deaf activists said that the sign language he was providing during the memorial service was gibberish.
In an interview with NBC News, Jantjie said that he was undergoing treatment for schizophrenia and was hallucinating visions of angels flying into the stadium during the ceremony.
"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," he told Johannesburg's Star newspaper. "I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry. It's the situation I found myself in."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jantjie said he had become violent during past schizophrenic episodes.
“I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it come,” he told the news agency. "Sometimes I get violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things chasing me.”
On Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was disappointed the controversy had overshadowed the Mandela service.
"It’s a shame that you had a service that was dedicated to honoring the life and celebrating the legacy of one of the great leaders of the 20th century has gotten distracted by this and a couple of other issues that are far less important than the legacy of Nelson Mandela," Earnest said.
The African National Congress — the political party that Mandela led — said it had used Jantjie to translate before and was unaware of his apparent illness.
“Until yesterday, the African National Congress had not been aware of any complaints regarding the quality of services, qualifications or reported illnesses of Mr. Jantjie,” the party said, according to The Wall Street Journal.