WASHINGTON — Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday in the face of multiple revelations about bumbling in her agency and rapidly eroding confidence that the president and his family were being kept safe.
President Barack Obama “concluded new leadership of that agency was required,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Through the day, high-ranking lawmakers from both parties had urged her to step down after her poorly received testimony to Congress a day earlier — and revelation of yet another security problem: Obama had shared an elevator in Atlanta last month with an armed guard who was not authorized to be around him.
“Today Julia Pierson, the director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement. He announced that Joseph Clancy, retired head of the agency’s Presidential Protective Division, would come out of retirement to lead the Secret Service temporarily.
Taking further steps to restore trust in the beleaguered agency, Johnson also outlined an independent inquiry into the agency’s operations.
That trust was shaken by a series of failures in the agency’s critical job of protecting the president, including a breach Sept. 19, when a knife-carrying man climbed over the White House fence and made it deep into the executive mansion before being stopped.
Pierson, in an interview with Bloomberg News, said she resigned because Congress lost confidence in her.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the Secret Service and the American public if I step down,” Pierson told Bloomberg after her resignation was announced. “Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency. The media has made it clear that this is what they expected.”
“I can be pretty stoic about it, but not really,” she said. “It’s painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a signifcant security breach.”
After a congressional hearing Tuesday into that breach and an earlier one, reports emerged of still another. The Atlanta elevator incident was the first known Secret Service failure to unfold in the presence of the president. The first family was not at the White House when the recent intruder entered.
The White House learned about the Atlanta episode when lawmakers and the public did — when the Washington Examiner and The Washington Post reported it, Earnest said.
Obama had not been told about it previously, Earnest said. This, despite Pierson’s statement to the committee that she briefs the president “100 percent of the time” about breaches to his personal security and those at the White House. She said the only time she had briefed him this year was after the Sept. 19 White House incident.
Support for Pierson unraveled quickly after her defensive testimony Tuesday, which left key questions unanswered.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, were both to issue public calls for her resignation on Wednesday afternoon, their offices said. And Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Pierson should either resign or Obama should fire her.
“Unfortunately, the Secret Service director’s appearance before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee has left us with more questions than answers,” said House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican. Although he stopped short of calling for Pierson’s resignation in a statement early in the day, he backed a call for an independent investigation and said, “The president must make a swift determination on whether the agency is being well-served by its current leadership.”
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the committee, said in multiple interviews Wednesday that Pierson was no longer the best person to lead the Secret Service.
“There has to be accountability when that is not the case,” added House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also backed calls for an independent investigation.
The official statement:
STATEMENT BY SECRETARY JOHNSON ABDUT THE U.S. SECRET SERVICE
Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it. I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation.
As an interim Acting Director of the Secret Service, I am appointing Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011. I appreciate his willingness to leave his position in the private sector on very short notice and return to public service for a period.
Today, I have also asked the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorlras, aided by this Departmenth General Counsel, to assume control and direction of the ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the fence jumping incident at the White House on September 19. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas should complete that review and submit findings to me by November 1, 2014.
Finally, I have also determined that scrutiny by a distinguished panel of independent experts of the September 19 incident and related issues concerning the Secret Service is warranted. The Panelists will be named shortly. By December 15, 2014, this panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound. I will also invite the panel to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service to include recommendations of individuals who come from outside the Secret Service. I will also request that the panel advise me about whether it believes: given the series of recent events: there should be a review of broader issues concerning the Secret Service. The security of the White House compound should be the panel’s primary and immediate priority.
It is worth repeating that the Secret Service is one of the finest offcial protection services in the world: consisting of men and women who are highly trained and skilled professionals prepared to put their own lives on the line in a second’s notice for the people they protect. Last week: the Secret Service was responsible for the protection of the President as well as 140 visiting heads of state or government as they convened at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Likewise, in August the Secret Service handled the protection of 140 world leaders as they convened in Washington, D.C. for the African Summit. As usual, the Secret Service executed these highly complex and demanding assignments without incident. There is no other protection service in the world that could have done this.