WASHINGTON — The new director of the Secret Service went on the offensive Thursday on Capitol Hill, disputing characterizations in news reports that two senior agents crashed a government vehicle into a security barrier at the White House after a night of drinking earlier this month.
“Previous reports of a crash are inaccurate – there was no crash,” Joseph Clancy said during a hearing by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. “The video shows the vehicle entering the White House complex at a speed of approximately 1 to 2 mph, and pushing aside a plastic barrel. There was no damage to the vehicle.”
Clancy also told lawmakers that some video recordings of the March 4 incident have been erased and the agency is working to recover them.
Earlier this month The Washington Post first reported that a pair of senior agents drove a government vehicle into a White House security barrier after a night of drinking on March 4. The Post has said in its news accounts of the incident that agents “drove into,” ”struck” and “hit” the barricades, although a separate editorial by the Post on March 12 described the agents as “allegedly crashing” into the barrier. A tongue-in-cheek Post opinion column the same day chastised the agency for “for crashing into yet another public relations barrier.”
The Post also initially reported that the agents may have driven over a suspicious item suspected of being a bomb during the incident. The newspaper later updated its material, based on additional reporting, to say that the vehicle may have actually only driven near the item.
The Post’s national editor, Cameron Barr, said the paper stands by its reporting.
“Throughout this coverage we have reported on an unfolding investigation of the incident,” Barr said. “We have not made absolute statements about what took place. We have been far more precise and cautious than some other outlets that have followed our reports, citing their own sources.”
Multiple news outlets, including The Associated Press and CNN, initially described the incident March 4 as a crash.
Earlier this week while testifying before a House Appropriations panel, Clancy said he had “seen nothing to indicate this incident as described occurred.”
Although denying reports of a crash, Clancy repeated his concerns that it took five days for him to learn about the incident.
“The fact that I did not learn of this allegation until five days after it is said to have occurred is unacceptable,” the director said in the prepared remarks.
Clancy also repeated an earlier pledge to carry out appropriate discipline if a Homeland Security IG’s investigation concludes the agents had been drinking before the March 4 incident — or if anyone else tried to cover up the incident.
He said the message sent to officers and agents is “people are going to be held accountable.”
Clancy told Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen that recordings of the vehicle pushing the construction barrier were preserved but other images, possibly including the agents interacting with officers on duty at the time, were recorded over.
He said it standard practice to record over videos after 72 hours unless the footage is needed for an investigation.
The Post has published a series of stories uncovering wrongdoing or suspected security failures by the agency.
Among the stories was a Sept. 30 article that reported that an armed security contractor rode in an elevator with President Barack Obama during a trip to Atlanta. The Post said he was a convicted felon. The Secret Service said it was unaware that the contractor was armed, but it was also later confirmed that the contractor had never been convicted of a crime. The Post corrected its story and published a new story Nov. 1 saying the security contractor had not been convicted of a felony.