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Republicans on Secret Service Chief's Resignation: 'She Had to Go'

By    |   Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 08:07 PM

Republicans lauded the resignation of Julia Pierson as director of the Secret Service on Wednesday, but warned that her departure would not solve the myriad problems facing the embattled agency.

"She had to go," Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz told CNN. "I think it was the right move. Unfortunately, it had to happen. She had lost the confidence of the men and women in the Secret Service."

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he would introduce legislation for an independent commission to investigate the agency.

"I am hopeful this will be the beginning of a new chapter for the dedicated men and women of the Secret Service," he told Newsmax. "However, the growing list of failures from Secret Service seems to be more pervasive than just its leadership."

While he welcomed Pierson's resignation, Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said that she "cannot simply serve as another Obama administration scapegoat."

"The agency's underlying issues must be immediately fixed and addressed so that we can ensure these problems never arise again," Broun, who also sits on the Homeland Security Committee, told Newsmax.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa said that "problems at the Secret Service predate Ms. Pierson's tenure as director, and her resignation certainly does not resolve them."

The panel grilled Pierson for three hours on Tuesday over the latest debacles at the agency charged with protecting President Barack Obama and his family, including the fence-jumping incident last month that got an Iraq War veteran far inside the White House before he was subdued.

"The Oversight Committee will continue to examine clear and serious agency failures at the Secret Service that have been exposed," said Issa, who represents California. "While serious questions surround the Secret Service, director Pierson served her country with honor and has my gratitude for her efforts."

Pierson, 55, took over the Secret Service in March 2013, becoming the first woman to head the agency. The Secret Service was already mired in controversy, including a prostitution scandal.

Then, on Sept. 19, Omar Gonzalez, 42, jumped the White House fence and made it well inside the presidential residence through an unlocked door before he was tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent. The incident occurred shortly after Obama had taken off for Camp David in a helicopter.

The Secret Service initially said Gonzalez was unarmed, but court documents showed he was carrying a folding knife in his pocket. It also was later learned that Gonzalez had been subdued in the White House East Room — well beyond a flight of stairs leading to the Obama family's private living quarters.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday in Washington on federal charges of illegal entry to a restricted area while carrying a dangerous weapon. He pleaded not guilty during a court hearing on Wednesday.

But the Secret Service grew even more embattled after lawmakers learned this week that Obama had shared an elevator in Atlanta with a private security contractor with a criminal record who was carrying a gun.

The incident, just days before the fence-jumping intrusion, marked the first known Secret Service failure to occur in the presence of the president. Obama learned of it only from news reports.

Further, the discovery came despite Pierson's telling the oversight committee that she briefed Obama "100 percent of the time" about threats to his personal security and that of others at the White House.

Pierson told legislators that the only time she had briefed the president this year was after the fence-jumping on Sept. 19.

Chaffetz called her earlier statement "deception."

In addition, The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Secret Service took four days to realize that a man had fired a high-powered rifle at the White House in 2011.

"I think it's in the best interest of the Secret Service and the American public if I step down,"Pierson told Bloomberg News after her resignation was announced by Homeland Security director Jeh Johnson.

"Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency," she added. "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."

A former Florida police officer, Pierson joined the Secret Service as a special agent in 1984. She had worked the security details of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Pierson had been chief of staff and assistant director of the Secret Service's Office of Human Resources and Training from 2008 until her appointment as director last year.

Johnson said Pierson would be succeeded by Joseph Clancy, a West Point graduate who was the former special agent in charge of the president's protective detail. He retired in 2011.

Clancy is leaving his private-sector job to return to the Secret Service.

"I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the nation," Johnson said in announcing Pierson's departure.

Johnson added that he was turning over the investigation of the fence-jumping incident to a DHS official and that he would "convene a distinguished panel of independent experts" to investigate the debacle.

The panel, whose members are to be named soon, is expected to provide recommendations to Johnson by Dec. 15, he said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama called Pierson to thank her for her service.

"She dedicated more than 30 years of her life to the United States Secret Service and to the important work that they do," Earnest said at the White House. "She spent several hours in front of the cameras yesterday answering difficult questions from members of Congress.

"In the context of that interaction, she took responsibility for the shortcomings of the agency that she led and she took responsibility for fixing them," Earnest added. "That quite simply is a testament to her professionalism and her character."

Earnest described Clancy as "someone who served with distinction" with the agency.

"He's somebody who has earned the respect of the president and admiration of the men and women who are his colleagues at the United States Secret Service. He is also someone who has the full confidence of the president and the first lady," Earnest said.

At Tuesday's oversight committee hearing, Republicans and Democrats alike pelted Pierson with questions about the Gonzalez incident and other Secret Service debacles.

"It's unacceptable," Pierson said in accepting full responsibility for the breach. "I'll make sure that it does not happen again."

Chaffetz was among Pierson's harshest critics, calling Wednesday for more resignations to clean up the agency.

"I'm afraid there are more systemic challenges there at the Secret Service, and until we address the overall leadership — we talk about the protocol, the training and the culture —  we won't truly root out all the problems and challenges," he told Wolf Blitzer.

"There needs to be some restructuring, some new management."

Chaffetz, who sits on both the oversight and homeland security committees, charged Pierson with "deception" by not telling Obama or legislators about the Atlanta breach.

"I don't think she was candid with the president of the United States," he told CNN. "You can't have a Secret Service director who's holding back that type of information and then telling Congress that she tells him 100 percent of the time. That was deception."

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, another oversight committee member, told Newsmax that the recent security problems at the Secret Service reflected "incompetence and negligence perpetuated by a culture problem that exists within the agency.

"With threats being made daily from ISIS and other terrorist groups, now is not the time to let our guard down," he said. "That Omar Gonzalez was able to breach at least 'five rings' of security and enter the White House with a knife is inexcusable."

McCaul said that the commission he plans to seek would "recommend specific steps the agency can take in order to ensure it has the best possible leadership structure, culture, protocols, training, tools and resources to meet its missions."

Both Chaffetz and House Speaker John Boehner also endorsed McCaul's plan.

"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 before the Pierson announcement. "The more we discover, the clearer it becomes that the Secret Service is beset by a culture of complacency and incompetence."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham characterized Pierson's testimony as "not confidence-inspiring."

"What she described as mistakes were major security breaches," he said before the resignation announcement. "Now is not the time for our enemies to believe we cannot protect our nation's commander in chief.

"I appreciate the director's service, but it's time for new leadership at the agency."

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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Republicans lauded the resignation of Julia Pierson as director of the Secret Service on Wednesday, but warned that her departure would not solve the myriad problems facing the embattled agency.
GOP, secret service, Pierson, resign, agency, disorder
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2014-07-01
Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 08:07 PM
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