Secret Service Director Resigns After Storm Of Criticism
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A sudden announcement today - Julia Pierson is out as director of the Secret Service. Her resignation comes after a storm of criticism in recent weeks for security lapses. A man with a knife jumped a fence and made it deep into the White House last month, and it was revealed yesterday that an armed ex-convict had been in an elevator with President Obama during a visit to Atlanta.
NPR's Brian Naylor has been following this story and joins us now. Brian, this seems to happen very fast. What can you tell us?
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Robert, right - yeah, just 24 hours ago or so Pierson was answering tough questions from lawmakers at a congressional hearing and the White House was asserting its confidence in her leadership. But Pierson's performance troubled many lawmakers yesterday, and there were calls starting to come in from both Republicans and Democrats for her to step down. This afternoon at a briefing, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said it was an accumulation of issues.
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JOSH EARNEST: Over the last several days we've seen recent and accumulating reports raising questions about the performance of the agency, and the president concluded that new leadership of that agency was required.
SIEGEL: Brian, new leadership - what can you tell us about the replacement of Julia Pierson?
NAYLOR: Yeah, the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson named Joseph Clancy to be the acting head of the Secret Service. Clancy had recently retired from the Service. He'd been the special agent in charge of the presidential protective division. He was the guy who accompanied the president on his travels - the guy who got off the helicopter first. He stepped down in 2011. He's a West Point grad, and he is said to have the full confidence of the president and first lady.
SIEGEL: I gather there will also be an independent investigation into the Secret Service.
NAYLOR: Right. So the Secret Service had already announced that it was conducting its own investigation into some of these recent events. And Secretary Johnson said today that he's appointing a distinguished panel of independent experts to look at the fence jumping incident and others. He said the panelists will be named shortly. And interestingly, he says he's inviting the panel to submit recommendations for new directors of the service and that that list should include recommendations of people outside the service, which suggests Johnson believes that the best cure for the agency's ills is to have some outside blood come in, if you will, and shake things up.
SIEGEL: What's been going on at the Secret Service? I mean, remind us of some of the recent problems.
NAYLOR: Well, there have been quite a few in recent months. There was the report yesterday an unarmed - rather, an armed security guard with a criminal record was on an elevator with the president unbeknownst to the Service when the president visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta last month. And there was, of course, the fence jumper, Omar Gonzalez, the Army veteran who climbed the White House fence, ran across the lawn, got inside the door and ran into the East room before he was stopped. He breached several rings of security.
Gonzalez, by the way, was in court today for an appearance, and he pleaded not guilty to the three charges that he faces in regard to that incident. There'll - he'll remain in custody. There will be another hearing on his case later this month.
SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Brian.
NAYLOR: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Brian Naylor on the resignation today of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson.
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