WASHINGTON (AP) — What were they thinking?
For months new Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy had been warning agents and officers that misconduct and drunken shenanigans would not be tolerated in the once-vaunted law enforcement agency. And yet, according to investigators, two senior Secret Service agents spent five hours at a bar, ran up a significant tab, and then drove back to the White House, where they shoved their car into a construction barrier and drove within inches of a suspicious package earlier this year.
All this just months after Secret Service Julia Pierson director was ousted in the aftermath of a series of embarrassing security breaches involving Secret Service agents and officers.
George Ogilvie and Marc Connolly were “more likely than not” impaired by alcohol when they drove through a secure area at the White House earlier this year, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said in a new report released late Wednesday.
They were among dozens of agency personnel who went to a retirement party for another agent but when the party wrapped up on March 4, the pair and two other, non-agent Secret Service employees, stuck around the Irish-themed bar for three more hours. Ogilvie, the assistant special agent in charge of the agency’s Washington field office, opened a tab and paid $149.87 for eight Johnny Walker Red scotches, two vodka drinks, three beers and a glass of wine.
The incident became public days later and forced Clancy to follow in the steps of Pierson and head to Capitol Hill to once again explain a Secret Service scandal to lawmakers.
In a statement Wednesday, the agency’s third director in less than three years said he was “disappointed and disturbed at the apparent lack of judgment described in this report. Behavior of the type described in the report is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Inspector General John Roth’s 18-page report on the incident said that Ogilvie, Connolly and their two companions all denied drinking all the drinks Ogilvie paid for before driving his government sport utility vehicle into a secured area at the White House, pushing a large construction barrier with the vehicle’s bumper and passing within inches of a suspicious item that had been left in the area.
Roth told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday that the agents’ behavior was “troubling.” When asked if the pair should be punished, Roth said while discipline will fall to the Secret Service, he “believes there should be some consequences.”
Roth testified that Ogilvie and Connolly both violated agency policies barring driving a government vehicle after drinking and requirements that they self-report any incident that could gain public attention.
When pressed by lawmakers about what may have led the agents to ignore or violate agency policies, Roth said there is a lack of accountability within the Secret Service.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and the ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said in a statement that Roth’s report was more evidence that the Secret Service is in need a “major cultural overhaul.”
Secret Service officers on duty and investigating the suspicious item when Ogilvie and Connolly drove through later told investigators they thought something was “not right” and the men were “not making sense” as they spoke to officers on the scene. None of the on-duty officers gave the agents a field sobriety test. Both were instead allowed to leave the White House complex driving government-owned vehicles, despite a watch commander’s concern that Connolly was not fit to drive.
In advance of the report’s release late Wednesday, Connolly, the deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protection Division, notified the agency that he would retire. Ogilvie has been placed on administrative leave.
The incident once again focused a congressional spotlight on an agency that didn’t need more attention for scandals. The scandal-plagued agency has been in the spotlight since 2012 when more than a dozen agents and officers were caught up in a prostitution scandal in advance of a presidential trip to Colombia. Since then, there have been a handful of other incidents, the most serious being a security breach at the White House in September.
In that incident, a Texas man armed with a knife was able to climb over a perimeter fence and run deep into the White House before being apprehended. It was later revealed that a few days before that incident, President Barack Obama rode an elevator in Atlanta with an armed contractor. The Secret Service didn’t know the man was armed until after Obama got off the elevator.
Pierson’s handling of those incidents ultimately led to her ouster. An independent panel concluded that the agency was “insular” and in need of new leadership. The panel recommended hiring a new director from outside the agency, but Obama instead chose Clancy, a retired agent who once ran the president’s protective detail.
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