Secret Service director resigns

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. She resigned October 1, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. She resigned October 1, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) AP

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday amid rising discontent in Congress over her leadership following an incident last month in which an armed man hopped a fence at the White House and made it inside.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he accepted Pierson’s resignation, adding “I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the nation.”

Obama called Pierson and thanked her for her service, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. He noted Pierson on Tuesday had taken responsibility for the latest mishap to befall the agency.

“She took responsibility for the shortcomings of the agency that she led, and she took responsibility for fixing them,” Earnest said. “That, quite simply, I think, is a testament to her professionalism and to her character.”

But, Earnest added as more revelations about Secret Service problems were revealed, “The president concluded that new leadership of the agency was required.”

As Pierson was testifying before Congress on Tuesday, news reports said agency protocols failed during Obama’s recent trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The president apparently shared an elevator with a security contractor who was carrying a gun and had three criminal convictions for assault and battery on his record.

Earnest said the White House didn’t learn about the incident “until shortly before it was reported” by news organizations on Tuesday.

He said Obama continues to have “full confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service” to keep him and his family protected.

Obama does not have a timetable for replacing Pierson, Earnest said, but recommended to Johnson that Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service, will be named as acting agency director. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011.

Earnest noted that Clancy will be taking a leave of absence from his non-government job to return to the agency.

“The president is grateful that he has taken on that very important responsibility,” Earnest said, adding Clancy was “somebody who has earned the respect and admiration of the men and women who are his colleagues at the United States Secret Service.”

And Earnest said Clancy “is also somebody who has the full confidence of the president and the first lady.”

Johnson has also asked Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to take over an ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the fence jumping incident at the White House on Sept. 19 and called for the findings to be submitted by Nov. 1.

And, Johnson said, he’s decided that “scrutiny by a distinguished panel of independent experts of the Sept. 19 incident and related issues concerning the Secret Service is warranted.”

He said the members would be named shortly, and by Dec. 15 would submit recommendations concerning White House security.

Johnson said he’d also ask the panel for recommendations for potential new Secret Service directors, including candidates outside the Secret Service.

He said he’d also ask the panel to advise him whether it believes there should be a review of “broader issues concerning the Secret Service,” but added that White House security should be the group’s “primary and immediate priority.”

Johnson called the Secret Service “one of the finest official protection services in the world” and noted that the agency last week protected Obama and 140 visiting heads of state or government at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and in August handled protective services for 60 world leaders at the African Summit in Washington.

“As usual, the Secret Service executed these highly complex and demanding assignments without incident,” Johnson said. “There is no other protection service in the world that could have done this.”

Pierson, whom Obama appointed in 2013 in the wake of a prostitution scandal that had rattled the agency, pledged to Congress that an incident like the fence jumper would never be repeated.

But she faced mounting pressure Wednesday to show results or step down. Leading Democrats said they had lost faith in Pierson’s ability to restore trust in the agency, which has suffered a series of embarrassing mishaps. They joined with Republicans in calling for an independent investigation to find out how the agency could have allowed a man with a knife in his pocket to gain entry to the White House.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday he backs Homeland Security Committee chairman Mike McCaul’s plan for a "blue ribbon commission" to conduct a comprehensive review of the agency.

"Given the Secret Service’s proud history and the duties it is charged with, we are right to expect nothing but candor and clarity from its leaders, particularly at a time when Americans are as aware as ever that we live in a dangerous world," Boehner said, adding that Pierson’s testimony on Tuesday had "created more questions than answers."

He stopped short of calling for Pierson to step down, but noted that Obama "must make a swift determination on whether the agency is being well-served by its current leadership."

Pelosi said she, too, believes an independent investigation should be launched, calling "inexcusable" that someone would jump over the fence and get into the White House and "inexcusable" that someone would be on the elevator with Obama with a weapon.

"I think an independent investigation is what is needed, not just to hold people accountable but to see how we should go forward in a way that, again, has precision, accountability and is flawless because the protection of the president is really important to our reputation, the reputation of the Secret Service," she said.

She too, stopped short of calling for Pierson’s resignation, saying she agrees with Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, who told CNN on Wednesday that he wants Pierson to step down "if she cannot restore trust in the agency and if she cannot get the culture back in order."

A Cummings aide said Cummings spoke with Pierson today and believes "that if she can’t restore the public’s trust in the agency – and in particular address the cultural issues so agents feel comfortable raising security concerns to their higher-ups – then of course she should not be in that position."

The aide said Cummings’ "trust is eroding, and he believes there needs to be an independent review of the agency."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier Wednesday that Obama "and everybody here at the White House stand solidly behind all of the men and women in the Secret Service, including the director of the Secret Service."

He told CNN the agency’s employees "are professionals who have a very difficult job and every day they wake up prepared to put their life on the line to protect the White House, to protect the president, to protect the first family."

He noted it was "clear, however, that there are some reforms that need to be implemented to bolster that security, particularly here at the White House."