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What went wrong at the Secret Service?

Secret Service director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday in the wake of revelations about security lapses in protecting the president and the White House. Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post joins Hari Sreenivasan for an update.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We begin with the shakeup at the Secret Service. The agency’s embattled director Julia Pierson has resigned after a series of incidents that punctured presidential security.

  • JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:

      Director Pierson offered her recommendation — her resignation today because she believed that it was in the best interest of the agency to which she has dedicated her career.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    From White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, the official announcement this afternoon. Pierson offered to resign, and the president accepted.

  • JOSH EARNEST:

    Over the last several days, we have seen recent and accumulating reports raising questions about the performance of the agency, and the president concluded that new leadership of that agency was required.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Just yesterday, Pierson, a 30-year Secret Service veteran, had apologized for security lapses before a House panel yesterday.

  • JULIA PIERSON, Director, Secret Service:

    This is unacceptable, and I take full responsibility. And I will make sure that it does not happen again.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Pierson was called to account for a series of revelations, that, in 2011, it took four days for the Secret Service to realize shots had hit the White House and that, last month, a fence jumper with a knife made it deep inside the mansion. But the director’s answer left lawmakers from both parties cold.

  • REP. STEPHEN LYNCH, (D) Massachusetts:

    I wish to God you — you protected the White House like you’re protecting your reputation here today.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    After the hearing ended came yet another disclosure, that two weeks ago, while the president was in Atlanta, a security guard with a gun and a record of assault and battery got on an elevator with him.

    Today, Pierson told Bloomberg News it’s in everyone’s interest that she resign, but she said — quote — “It’s painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach.”

    Meanwhile, the accused fence jumper, Omar Gonzalez, appeared in federal court. His lawyer entered a not guilty plea to federal and local charges.

    For more on the Pierson resignation, we turn to Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post. She’s broken several major stories on the Secret Service’s lapses, and she joins us now from The Post’s newsroom.

    So, what tipped the scales? As of this morning, the White House seems to still express confidence in her. Why did she resign?

  • CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

    Well, if you saw the White House briefing, Josh Earnest was asked sort of pointedly that exact same question, and he was asked, was this because lawmakers had increasingly sort of lost confidence in her after her pretty unremarkable performance on the Hill yesterday?

    And he said, no, the president had concluded we needed an agency change in leadership as a result of, you know, this — these recent and accumulating accounts of bad performance in the agency.

    I mean, you have to think about all the things the president has been learning in the last couple of days, one, the details about how a shooting at his home was fumbled by the Secret Service in 2011, the fact that he got on an elevator with an armed security guard who had not been checked by the Secret Service and had a criminal history, unbeknownst to them, and that a fence jumper actually made it a lot further into the house than the director of the Secret Service had told anyone, including in a criminal complaint about that fence jumper.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, will it be enough? Will the resignation be enough? What’s the reaction been from lawmakers?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Well, certainly, lawmakers think her resignation is a step in the right direction, most of the ones that I have talked to today.

    But I think that, you know, if you’re a Secret Service agent or officer, what you’re looking for is that second part of the press release, which is the top-to-bottom review of the agency. I mean, this is an agency with this amazing, elite reputation of yore that has really taken a bruising, and — because of these security lapses.

    And the agents who love it and work for it dutifully want it to be fixed as much as anybody who was on Capitol Hill and on that Oversight Committee. They want to see higher-quality leadership. They want to see intensive training. They don’t want any more complacency. They want to see staffing that’s commensurate with all the added chores that the Secret Service has received since 9/11.

    They — they are looking forward to the challenge of doing this job well and returning their focus to the core mission.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And, briefly, what do we know about Joseph Clancy, the man who is in the interim seat?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Yes, I have interviewed a few people who worked with him and know him well. They described him as genteel, lovely, a real gentleman, a conflict avoider, somebody who really likes to be around others and is not going to rock the boat.

    He’s going to be a very good caretaker until a permanent replacement is found, is what I have heard from folks who knew him.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    You bet.

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