Secret Service director Julia Pierson was grilled at Tuesday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the recent White House intrusion by Omar Gonzalez, admitting that her agency failed to lock the White House front door.
Meanwhile, written testimony from a former Secret Service director, which was reviewed by The Daily Caller but not immediately addressed in the hearing, revealed that the Secret Service has been conducting secret studies due to concerns that the White House fence was not equipped to keep out intruders.
Lawmakers from both parties — including Democratic Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, who cut out of the hearing to appear on MSNBC while Pierson was still testifying — expressed outrage at Pierson over the intrusion amid palpable fears of terrorism. Some Democratic references to sequestration-related budget cuts failed to gain traction in defending the agency. Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch told Pierson, “I have very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership. That’s not an easy thing to say.”
“The door was unlocked at the time of Mr. Gonzalez’s entry, that is correct,” Pierson admitted to oversight chairman Rep. Darrell Issa. “The front door actually consists of two doors. The outer door, the storm door, was not locked. The inner door, the wood door, was in the process of being hand-locked.”
“Have you considered asking that a higher fence be built?” Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton asked Pierson.
Pierson also acknowledged that the new makeshift police barrier in front of the actual White House fence, put in place two weeks ago, was set up for the agency’s investigation, contradicting a statement a Secret Service officer gave to TheDC Monday that the fence was there due to construction. An expert testified that a new fence would not be enough to deter fence-jumpers.
Pierson said that her agency has stopped sixteen White House fence-jumpers in recent years.
Issa told Pierson at one point, “Ma’am, I want a short answer, I have very little time. … You head an agency where morale has gone down. It’s lower than other comparable agencies. You’ve had a series of embarrassments.”
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy also compelled Pierson to admit that it took her agency “three or four days” to figure out that the White House had been shot by bullets in 2011, and that the gunfire was not actually a car backfiring. Pierson also admitted that sequestration did not cause her agency to fail to figure out that a shooting had taken place.
“I’ve never heard a car backfire six to eight times. Have you?” Gowdy asked.
“I’ve heard car backfires,” Pierson replied.
But written testimony submitted by former Secret Service director W. Ralph Basham revealed that the Secret Service long knew that the White House fence was not secure.
“I can also tell you that there have been numerous studies conducted over the years by the Secret Service and, at the Service’s, request to test and explore options to address vulnerabilities of concern to the White House complex,” Basham testified. “Without going into inappropriate detail in this open setting, I can tell you that among other considerations, these were motivated in part by concerns about the inadequacy of the current White House fence as an outer perimeter for the complex given the ability of an individual or group of individuals to quickly scale it and be on the White House grounds.”