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US Secret Service Director Resigns

  • VOA News

FILE - U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson takes her seat to testify at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "White House Perimeter Breach: New Concerns about the Secret Service" on Capitol Hill, Sept. 30, 2014.

FILE - U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson takes her seat to testify at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "White House Perimeter Breach: New Concerns about the Secret Service" on Capitol Hill, Sept. 30, 2014.

The director of the U.S. Secret Service, Julia Pierson, has resigned.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that Pierson met with President Barack Obama, who expressed appreciation for her 30 years of service to the country. Earnest said Pierson took responsibility for the service's shortcomings and for fixing them.

Earnest said the president continues to have full confidence in the Secret Service, and accepted Pierson’s resignation because he agreed with her assessment that it was in the best interest of the agency.

“They reached that conclusion because of the recent and accumulating reports about the performance of the agency, and that is what led the president to believe that new leadership is required,” he said.

The White House press secretary would not go into details of either of the latest security breaches, saying the incidents are under investigation.

Earnest said Obama spoke to Pierson by phone and expressed appreciation for her 30 years with the Secret Service.

Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson said he is appointing former Secret Service special agent Joseph Clancy as interim director of the agency.

In his statement, Johnson also remarked how the U.S. Secret Service agency protected the president and 140 visiting heads of state during last week’s U.N. General Assembly in New York without incident, noting that “no other protection service in the world could have done this.”

Congressional scrutiny

Pierson faced tough questions from Congress this week after two serious breaches in security last month.

Reports say Pierson will be replaced on an interim basis by Joseph Clancy, who previously led the section of the Secret Service that protects the president.

Earlier Wednesday, key lawmakers voiced new criticism of her and the Secret Service, after recent lapses in White House security.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said that as more details emerge about the security breaches, "the clearer it becomes that the Secret Service is beset by a culture of complacency and incompetence." He called for an independent investigation.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also urged a new investigation.

Their criticism of the Secret Service, the agency charged with protecting Obama and his family, came as accused White House fence-jumper Omar Gonzalez appeared in a Washington court. He pleaded not guilty to charges that he eluded security and ran into the presidential mansion September 19 with a serrated knife in his pants pocket before he was apprehended.

Armed threat

In a separate incident three days before in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia, a security contractor armed with a gun who had previously been convicted of assault rode on an elevator with Obama and his security detail, even through the Secret Service did not know of his background or that he was armed.

The Atlanta incident was revealed hours after Pierson testified Tuesday before a congressional committee investigating shortcomings at the agency, but never mentioned the elevator security breach.

Pierson said the intrusion into the White House was unacceptable, took "full responsibility" for it and vowed that it would not happen again.

She said the 42-year-old Gonzalez barreled past one agent, and was only caught after running into the ceremonial rooms on the first floor of the presidential mansion, one of the most secure buildings in the United States.

The Secret Service at first said Gonzalez was arrested just inside an unlocked White House door, and that he was unarmed at the time. The president and his daughters had left the residence shortly before the incident, while first lady Michelle Obama had departed earlier.

In one 2011 incident, gunfire hit the White House, but damage from the bullets was only discovered four days later.

In other Secret Service wrongdoing, agents were involved in a prostitution scandal on a presidential trip to Colombia in 2012, and a night of drinking in March led to three agents being sent home from a presidential trip to Amsterdam.

Gonzalez served with the U.S. Army during the nine-year war in Iraq. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Information from VOA correspondent Aru Pande at the White House and Reuters contributed to this report.