Embattled Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday following embarrassing missteps that placed the president and the first family at risk.
“I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the nation,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement announcing Pierson’s resignation.
Joseph Clancy, a retired special agent, would return to the agency as interim acting director, Johnson said.
“The president concluded that new leadership of that agency was required,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday at the White House.
Under Pierson’s watch, an armed intruder managed to jump the White House fence and run deep into the building, brandishing a knife as he ran past a stairwell leading to the first family’s private residence. The Secret Service had not been forthcoming in initial reports about the risk the intruder posed and how far he had gotten inside the White House. The suspect, who was overpowered by an off-duty Secret Service agent, appeared in court Wednesday.
Separately, President Obama was in an elevator in Atlanta two weeks ago with an armed security contractor who had assault convictions. Additional revelations include that the Secret Service bungled a 2011 its response to a shooting incident in which seven bullets hit the White House. According to a Washington Post report it took the Secret Service four days to determine that a shooting had even occurred.
“It’s painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach,” Pierson told Bloomberg News Wednesday, adding that her staying on as head of the agency would have tarnished the White House’s confidence in the Secret Service.
When asked if Obama would support further firings in the wake of the Secret Service scandal, Earnest said the commander-in-chief believes an independent panel should determine which steps are appropriate. He also conceded that the White House first learned of the armed man in the elevator with Obama incident shortly before it was reported on Tuesday.
Pierson appeared before the House Oversight Committee Tuesday and faced a barrage of questions about her leadership and the security of the president. She accepted responsibility and promised an investigation. But she gave no indication she planned on stepping down.
“It’s clear that our security plan was not properly executed,” Pierson told lawmakers.
House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa said Pierson’s resignation doesn’t resolve issues at the agency. “While serious questions surround the Secret Service, Director Pierson served her country with honor and has my gratitude for her efforts,” Issa said in a statement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, said he appreciated Pierson’s service and respected her decision to step down. “[N]ow we have to ensure that we focus on the difficult work of fully restoring the Secret Service to its rightful status as the most elite protective service in the world.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House subcommittee on national security, said he is “pleased” Pierson stepped down and called for an independent review of the agency.
“The agency tasked with protecting the highest office in our land should be the crown jewel of federal law enforcement,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “I will work with my colleagues and the administration towards returning the agency back to the standards the president deserves.”
Despite bipartisan calls for her resignation, the White House stood by Pierson into Wednesday morning. Appearing on “Morning Joe,” Earnest defended her as qualified to run the agency.
Clancy, the Secret Service’s incoming interim director, has served as Comcast’s director of corporate security since July 2011. Comcast owns NBC Universal.
Pierson was brought on to lead the agency in March 2013 in the wake of revelations that Secret Service agents solicited prostitutes in Colombia ahead of a presidential visit to the country.
Johnson said Wednesday in the wake of the resignation that his deputy, Alejandro Mayorkas, and the department’s general counsel would take over an ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service into the fence-jumping incident from Sept. 19. Johnson promised it would be completed by Nov. 1. He also said he would appoint an outside panel of independent experts to review related concerns about the incident.