White House officials told the world they had confidence in Secret Service Director Julia Pierson—until suddenly she was out of a job on Wednesday.
It had been a terrible 24 hours for Pierson: a stiff performance before a congressional committee investigating a September White House intrusion; new reports about a security lapse that allowed a convict with a gun to share an elevator with the president; and plummeting confidence in her leadership.
Lawmakers were open about their displeasure with Pierson, who appeared aloof as she testified before them Tuesday morning. “I don’t sense from you, Ms. Pierson, a sense of outrage,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA).
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was pressed repeatedly by reporters Tuesday afternoon for details of the White House intrusion, whether President Obama had been immediately and fully briefed, and whether the president still had confidence in Pierson. The only question Earnest didn’t hedge on was that the White House remained confident in Pierson, who had spent 30 years with the Secret Service.
Then the Washington Examiner reported that a man with a gun had been allowed to ride in an elevator with the president while he was visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September. The Washington Post added that the man was a convicted felon.
Calls for Pierson’s resignation began to pile up from both sides of the aisle: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a statement calling for “new leadership at the agency,” and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told a radio station Pierson “had to go.”
The lawmakers were able to point to a laundry list of Secret Service misdeeds and security lapses: wannabe reality TV stars crashing a White House state dinner; a prostitution scandal in Colombia; excessive drinking by agents in the Netherlands; cluelessness about a man who shot at the White House in 2011; and finally this week’s revelations.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he would be holding a press conference Wednesday afternoon to call for Pierson’s resignation.
He never got the chance. Before Schumer’s scheduled event, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Pierson’s resignation and her replacement by Joseph Clancy, the former head of the Secret Service’s Presidential Protective Division.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), one of the most vocal members of the House Oversight Committee, said he was “pleased” that Pierson was stepping down. “The agency tasked with protecting the highest office in our land should be the crown jewel of federal law enforcement,” he said.
Pierson’s exit is no panacea for the myriad of problems at the agency. It’s worth noting that she only was tapped to lead the Secret Service in an attempt to clean up its image in the wake of the Cartagena prostitution scandal.
“Problems at the Secret Service predate Ms. Pierson’s tenure as director, and her resignation certainly does not resolve them,” said House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA). The question now is whether Clancy, her successor, will have any success turning around an agency in turmoil.