Secret Service Director To Face Tough Question At House Hearing
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is one of those questions that is perfect for a congressional hearing, though not so perfect for the witness. The question is how a man managed to get so far onto the White House grounds.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The director of the Secret Service will be asked variations on that question today - maybe many variations. Earlier this month, an army veteran climbed over the White House fence.
INSKEEP: And it turns out the intruder made it farther inside the White House than the Secret Service originally acknowledged. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: When Omar Gonzalez scaled the fence along Pennsylvania Avenue and made it across the lawn and into the White House, the Secret Service first said he had been tackled inside the door of the North Portico. But now it seems that's not quite the case. Gonzalez not only made it inside the door, he ran down the main hallway and into the East Room before being tackled. Confirming the incident, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz tells CNN, the Secret Service has a lot of questions to answer.
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REPRESENTATIVE JASON CHAFFETZ: Why is it that the Secret Service - did they issue a statement and said that the intruder, the guy who hopped the fence, had no weapon? Ends up he did have a weapon. Why is it that they say he stopped at the door, but our whistleblowers are telling us he went much further into the White House?
NAYLOR: Once more, alarm boxes inside the White House to warn of intruders were said to be shut off because ushers complained of noise they made. The Secret Service did not respond to a request for a comment on the new revelations, first reported by The Washington Post. They come on the heels of another incident recently reported by the Post, a shooting that took place in November of 2011, on a night when President and Mrs. Obama were out of town, how their youngest daughter was in the residence, along with Mrs. Obama's mother. According to the account, a gunman parked on Constitution Avenue fired a semi-automatic rifle at the White House. At least seven shots hit the building, and one pierced an outer window and was stopped by a layer of bullet-proof glass. Secret Service on the scene scrambled to locate the shooter, but a supervisor told them to stand down, that it was backfire from a vehicle. Four days later, a housekeeper discovered the broken glass and a bullet lodged into a window frame, and the Secret Service began investigating the incident. Mrs. Obama was said to be outraged. White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
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JOSH EARNEST: The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job, which is to protect the first family, to protect the White House.
NAYLOR: The House panel will question Secret Service Director Julia Pierson about the incidents. Pierson, the first woman to head the agency, was appointed by President Obama last year. Morale at the Service, especially among the uniformed division that guards the building itself, is described as low. Jim Pasco is executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents most of the uniformed officers. He says many are lured to the job by its high-profile and glamor.
JIM PASCO: However if you're spending your day at a magnetometer at a remote location or in a guard shack on the perimeter of the White House or some other facility, then the luster quickly wears off.
NAYLOR: Since the fence-jumping incident, the Secret Service has put a line of temporary barriers next to the ornamental fence along Pennsylvania Avenue. The barriers are marked by yellow signs that read, police line, do not cross, a make-shift effort to deter other potential fence climbers. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.