Secret Service chief quits

Francis Rivera


Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday after a string of serious security breaches that badly damaged her agency’s once-stellar reputation.

Pierson quit a day after a disastrous House hearing that sparked calls from Democrats as well as Republicans for her to resign or be fired.

{mosads}Her fate appeared sealed Wednesday afternoon when news broke that Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat in charge of his party’s messaging in the race for control of the Senate, would call for her to quit.

Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the agency who had only served as its director for 18 months, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that she thought it was “in the best interest” of the Secret Service for her to resign.

“Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency,” Pierson said in the interview. “The media has made it clear that this is what they expected.

“I can be pretty stoic about it, but not really,” Pierson said. “It’s painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach.”

Lawmakers have reacted with a mix of incredulity and fear to reports that an armed man with a criminal record was allowed to ride in an elevator with President Obama; that another man was able to scale the White House fence and dash through parts of the first family’s residence before being tackled by an off-duty agent; and that agents failed to realize a gunman in 2011 had fired on the White House, knocking a chunk of cement to the floor.

First lady Michelle Obama was reportedly infuriated by the last incident, which took place while the Obamas’ youngest daughter was inside the mansion along with her grandmother Marian Robinson and older daughter Malia was expected back shortly.

The White House on Tuesday had signaled its patience was wearing thin with the Secret Service, which has seen a steady drip of news stories reveal new disturbing security breaches, as well as contradictions with the agency’s account of the fence-jumper.

Pierson submitted her resignation to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who said he would be appointing Joseph Clancy, who served in the Presidential Protective Division until 2011, as the acting director of the agency.

Johnson also asked Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to oversee the ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the Sept. 19 fence jumping, and submit findings to him by Nov. 1.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said Pierson resigned because “she believed it was in the best interest of the agency.”

He said Obama called Pierson after her resignation to express his appreciation for her service.

All along, the White House response has been measured with aides saying Obama supported Pierson and the agents who protected him and his family. 

On Wednesday, after Pierson’s resignation, Earnest said Obama has “nothing but the highest regard” for the men and women of the Secret Service. But based on the recent reports detailing the breaches of security, Obama felt as though a “new direction was necessary.”

All day on Wednesday, there were signs of Pierson’s crumbling support on Capitol Hill.

She was chosen to lead the Secret Service after a separate controversy involving male agents on a presidential trip to Colombia who had brought prostitutes back to their hotel and engaged in heavy drinking.

Supporters noted that she had a decorated career within the agency and that she’d had little time leading it.

But lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing argued she seemed more focused on protecting the Secret Service than being transparent about the agency’s problems.

Threats against Obama, the nation’s first black president, have been larger in number than previous presidents, something that has worried black lawmakers in particular.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), in a radio interview Tuesday with Roland Martin, said he thought it was time for Pierson to go before later hedging his comments.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) associated herself with Cummings’s comments, providing little cover for Pierson.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he wouldn’t call for Pierson’s resignation, saying that was a decision for Obama. But he offered her no support.

“The more we discover, the clearer it becomes that the Secret Service is beset by a culture of complacency and incompetence,” Boehner said in the statement. “As such, the president must make a swift determination on whether the agency is being well-served by its current leadership.” 

While Republicans and Democrats have said the Secret Service issue is not partisan, politics have hung over the story, which broke just more than a month before the midterm elections.

Obama’s low approval ratings have been a drag on Democrats, and another story raising questions about competence in government in the wake of the controversy surrounding the Veterans Affairs Administration was not helpful.

The White House said the scandal would not have any political fallout. 

“I don’t think this has anything to do with politics,” Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.

— This story was updated at 8:13 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Elijah Cummings Julia Pierson Secret Service White House

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