TIME Congress

Secret Service Director to Face Congress in Wake of Scathing Report

Two Congressmen talked to TIME about issues with the Secret Service, hours before a report surfaced that an intruder got further into the White House than thought

A report revealed Monday that the knife-wielding White House fence jumper 11 days ago got further into the President’s home than previously thought, on the eve of a congressional hearing about White House security and Secret Service procedure.

On Sept. 19, after 42-year-old Iraq veteran Omar Gonzalez jumped over the White House fence, he managed to run through “much of the main floor” of the presidential mansion and past an alarm box that did not properly warn officers of the intruder, the Washington Post said, citing anonymous sources.

The report put Secret Service Director Julia Pierson even deeper into hot water on Tuesday. Before the Post broke the story about Gonzalez, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a top member on the House Oversight Committee, was already questioning whether or not Pierson should keep her job.

“I’m not out for her scalp, but we’ll see where we’re at at the end of the hearing,” Chaffetz, a top member on the House Oversight Committee, told TIME. Chaffetz sees the latest incident, in addition to an event in 2011 in which a man fired at least eight rounds at the White House, as major national security violations. “When you look at those in their totality, you wonder if she is up to the job,” says Chaffetz.

Pierson served as Chief of Staff of the Secret Service from 2008 to 2013, and was appointed last year to be the agency’s first female director.

Hours before the Post story came out, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight committee, told TIME that he is unsure whether the most recent incident should force a change at the top. “This is a transformational moment for the Secret Service,” he said. “They’ve got to get this right, and they’ve got to get this right, right now because it can only get worse if we don’t take advantage of this moment. This is a major wake up call—major.”

“I wonder whether our guard has been lowered a bit,” Cummings added. “And if it has been, then we’ve got to make sure that we have a top to bottom evaluation of what we’re doing—looking at culture, personnel, procedures, equipment being used and every aspect of security—so that not only are we the most elite protection agency in the world, but also that people perceive us to be just that.”

Neither Cummings nor Chaffetz suggested that the incident would necessarily require a legislative fix, instead arguing that there must be a change in “attitude” or “culture” at the agency. “I would think that this is more of a culture situation, possibly leadership,” Cummings said.

TIME White House

Reports: WH Intruder Gets Far Past Front Door

(WASHINGTON) — The intruder who climbed a fence made it farther inside the White House than the Secret Service has publicly acknowledged, the Washington Post and New York Times newspapers reported Monday. The disclosures came on the eve of a congressional oversight hearing with the director of the embattled agency assigned to protect the president’s life.

Citing unnamed sources — three people familiar with the incident and a congressional aide — the newspapers said Omar J. Gonzalez ran past the guard at the front door and into the East Room, which is about halfway across the first floor of the building. Gonzalez was eventually “tackled” by a counter-assault agent, according to the Post, which was first to report the news.

In the hours after the fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that the suspect had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House.

The Secret Service also said that night that the suspect had been unarmed — an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.

Getting so far would have required Gonzalez to dash through the main entrance hall, turn a corner, then run through the center hallway half-way across the first floor of the building, which spans 168 feet in total, according to the White House Historical Association.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was scheduled to testify before a House committee on Tuesday for the first time since the Sept. 19 incident. The new details about a far more significant breach were expected to dominate the lawmakers’ inquiries.

A Secret Service spokesman declined to comment on the latest details because of the ongoing investigation.

It was a security lapse that could have had serious consequences, if the intruder had been heavily armed and if the president and his family had been home. No one was hurt in the incident, but it’s not the first involving the White House itself, raising the question whether the latest breach is part of a pattern of delayed reactions to threats to the executive mansion. The Secret Service says that is not the case. And President Barack Obama has confidence in the Secret Service to do its job.

The Post reported over the weekend that the Secret Service did not immediately respond to shots fired at the White House in 2011, amid what the agency describes as uncertainty about where the shots originated. Four days later, it was discovered that at least one of the shots broke the glass of a window on the third level of the mansion, the Secret Service said.

At the time of the 2011 breach, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were away, but their daughters were in Washington — one home and the other due to return that night.

Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2011 incident.

Gonzalez, 42, was arrested Sept. 19 after agents stopped him inside the White House front door.

“The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job, which is to protect the first family, to protect the White House, but also protect the ability of tourists and members of the public to conduct their business or even tour the White House,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.

After the Sept. 19 breach, Pierson ordered a review of the incident and possible changes to security measures at and around the White House. She briefed the president on Thursday.

“The president is interested in the review that they are conducting, and I would anticipate that he’ll review whatever it is they — whatever reforms and recommendations they settle upon,” Earnest said of the Secret Service’s internal review.

Secret Service officers who spotted Gonzalez scaling the fence quickly assessed that he didn’t have any weapons in his hands and wasn’t wearing clothing that could conceal substantial quantities of explosives, a primary reason agents did not fire their weapons, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.

Gonzalez was on the Secret Service radar as early as July when state troopers arrested him during a traffic stop in southwest Virginia. State troopers there said Gonzalez had an illegal sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible with a circle around the White House, other monuments and campgrounds. The troopers seized a stash of other weapons and ammunition found during a search of Gonzalez’s car after his arrest.

The Secret Service interviewed Gonzalez in July, but had nothing with which to hold him. Gonzalez was released on bail. Then, on Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped and questioned again while he was walking along the south fence of the White House. He had a hatchet, but no firearms. His car was searched, but he was not arrested.

“There’s a misperception out there that we have some broad detention powers,” Donovan, the Secret Service spokesman, said. The Secret Service, like other law enforcement agencies, must have evidence of criminal behavior in order to file charges against someone. “Just because we have a concern about someone doesn’t mean we can interview or arrest them or put them in a mental health facility,” Donovan said.

The Secret Service has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2012 prostitution scandal erupted during a presidential visit to Colombia.

Earlier this year Pierson met privately with senators after an agent was found drunk in a hotel during a presidential trip to the Netherlands. That incident came just weeks after two agents in Florida were involved in a traffic accident that The Washington Post reported involved alcohol. There were no charges filed against the agents. And Pierson said neither incident was representative of the entire agency.

TIME White House

Larry Summers: Obama and Clinton Are Very Different Bosses

The current president is a stickler for punctuality and order, the former Treasury Secretary tells the Nantucket Project. But Clinton? Not so much

“There are differences in working for President Clinton and President Obama,” said Larry Summers in a panel on global finance at the Nantucket Project on Sunday. Summers ought to know: he served as Secretary of the Treasury under the first and Director of the National Economic Council under the second.

“If you have a 10 o’clock meeting with President Obama,” he says, “you should be in your office at 10 minutes before 10, because he might be running early. If you have a 10 o’clock meeting with President Clinton, it’s really okay if you cruise in at 10:05, because he’s not going to be ready until 10:20.”

The differences in meeting styles go beyond punctuality, Summers continued: “If you’re meeting with President Obama, if it’s a 30-minute meeting, at 10:26 his assistant will bring him an index card telling him about this next meeting, and at 10:30, you will be gone. That 30-minute meeting you were supposed to have with President Clinton that was supposed to begin at 10 and actually began at 10:20? At 10:50, he is just warming up.”

Number 42 and Number 44 differ in their approach to meeting prep as well. If Summers gave Obama a memo in advance, he says, “the probability that he would have read the memo was 99.5 percent, and if you attempted to summarize the memo, he would politely but very firmly say, “Larry, I read the memo.” President Clinton? “He might have read the memo. He might not have read the memo. He kind of welcomed your summary.”

While Obama focused on making decisions based on the information his advisers presented, Clinton wasn’t afraid to give his advisers some food for thought. Doing an impression of sorts, Summers recalled the way he’d go off on a tangent: “Larry, you’re talking about the unbanked, people without bank accounts. There was a guy, great guy, used to be mayor of Memphis, he had a program going to help the unbanked—beautiful wife—ran for Congress, I don’t know what happened to him, great guy, you really should look into that program to use unemployed youth to install ATMs.”

Though one was more disciplined and the other more freeform, he said both were effective leaders by staying true to their own styles.

Summers also came to Obama’s defense in the forum when Meredith Whitney, the former stock analyst turned hedge fund manager who correctly predicted the subprime crisis in 2007, said that we’re now in a period of over-regulation.

If it’s really true that there’s a bureaucratic “war on corporations,” Summers asked, then “why is it that the market value as measured by the stock market of American corporate business has grown more rapidly in the five and a half years of this presidential administration than any other administration since 1932? … why is it that corporate profits as a share of our economy are larger than they have ever been before?”

“It’s just an odd kind of war in terms of the results.”

TIME National Security

Obama Admits U.S. Intelligence Didn’t See ISIS Coming

Intelligence chiefs have admitted they underestimated the threat posed by the Islamist group, Obama says

The U.S. underestimated the threat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posed in Syria and Iraq, President Obama conceded in an interview that will air on 60 Minutes Sunday, and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to secure their country.

“[Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

“Essentially what happened with [ISIS] was that you had al Qaeda in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash [it] with the help of Sunni tribes,” Obama went on. “They went back underground, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you had huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”

When asked about comments by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group, Obama said, “That’s true,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s absolutely true.”

Obama had already admitted that the rise of ISIS took the U.S. by surprise. “I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq,” he said in an August statement.

 

TIME White House

Report: Secret Service Bungled White House Shooting Response in 2011

The White House Is Reflected On Driveway Puddle
A puddle in the driveway reflects the White House and north lawn on Sept. 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Took four days to realize White House had been hit by gunfire

The Secret Service badly bungled its response to a shooting outside the White House in 2011, according to a new report, taking four days to realize that shots had actually hit the presidential residence.

A detailed report in the Washington Post chronicles the Secret Service’s slow and inadequate response to a 2011 shooting outside the White House in which an Idaho man, Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez, fired at least seven bullets into the house’s upstairs residence 700 yards across the South Lawn, and to the attack.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were away during that weekend, but their younger daughter, Sasha, was in the White House, the Post reports, and their older daughter, Malia, was expected home any minute.

While Secret Service officers rushed to respond to the shots, a call came from the supervisor on duty: no shots fired, stand down. The officers complied, even as Ortega sped away from the scene at 60 mph. The supervisor apparently believed the noise had been a construction vehicle backfiring.

Although it acknowledged later that night that shots had been fired in the vicinity, the agency initially suggested they had come from a gang gunfight near the front lawn of the White House, and not from a deliberate attack.

It took more than four days for the Secret Service to piece together that shots had hit the White House, and only then because a housekeeper noticed the damage. The Secret Service did not interview key witnesses until days later, when the bullets were found, and only conducted a superficial inspection of the White House for damage.

The Obamas were only made aware of the shooting when an assistant White House usher told the First Lady about the bullet holes another housekeeper had found. The officers who believed shots had hit the White House were either ignored or afraid to contradict their superiors.

Ortega was eventually arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. A spokesman for the Secret Service declined to speak with the Post.

[Washington Post]

TIME White House

Obama: Ferguson Exposed ‘Gulf of Mistrust’ Between Cops and Communities

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 44th Annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington on Sept. 27, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

Law enforcement targeting of blacks and other minorities "has a corrosive effect—not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America"

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. last month exposed the “gulf of mistrust” that exists between law enforcement and local residents in many communities.

Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, the President said that the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb “awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”

Statistically, the President noted, blacks in the United States are targeted at a substantially higher rate than whites in their cars and on the street, and more likely to get the death penalty. “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.”

“And that has a corrosive effect—not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America,” Obama continued.

To reverse the widening gap between minority communities and the people who police them, said Obama, “we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track.”

Obama’s remarks Saturday came nearly two months after the shooting of Brown sparked a week of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and outrage around the country at the local police’s handling of the situation.

You can read the speech below:

TIME justice

President Obama Announces Eric Holder Will Step Down

President Obama Announces Resignation Of Eric Holder
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. who announced his resignation today, Sept. 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Pays tribute to "one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history"

President Barack Obama paid tribute to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, as he announced the resignation of the country’s top law enforcement official.

Standing alongside Holder at a White House press conference, the president confirmed the “bittersweet” news that America’s first black attorney general’s would step down from his position as soon as a successor was confirmed by the Senate.

“Bobby Kennedy once said, ‘on this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and equal before the law,'” said Obama. “As one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history, Eric Holder has borne that burden.”

Obama credited Holder—who has a portrait of Kennedy on his office wall—as a civil rights defender who spent his career atop the Justice Department reforming the criminal justice code, defending voting rights and supporting the legal rights of same-sex marriage advocates.

The president also pushed back against criticism that the Justice Department had not done enough in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. “He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion, much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.”

But Obama said that the AG’s “proudest achievement” might be his “reinvigorating and restoring the core mission” of the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division. “He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right,” said Obama. “He’s challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job.”

Holder said he came to the end of six years leading the Justice Department “with very mixed emotions,” occasionally fighting back tears as he spoke. “I’m proud of what the men and women of the Justice Department have accomplished,” he added, but said he was “very sad” that he would serve alongside them no longer.

Addressing Obama, he said: “I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and the legacy of all those who have served before me.”

TIME justice

Eric Holder Will Leave a Legacy of Civil Rights Activism

Barack Obama, Eric Holder
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, to announce Holder is resigning. Evan Vucci—AP

Holder used the bully pulpit to highlight racial injustices he saw around him

Attorney General Eric Holder showed in his second week in office that he planned to approach the job of top law enforcement officer differently.

“In things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” he said, in prepared remarks to Justice Department staff on Feb. 18, 2009. “Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must—and will—lead the nation to the ‘new birth of freedom’ so long ago promised by our greatest President.”

The remarks earned a backlash from the West Wing staff around President Barack Obama, but Holder’s attitude never changed, nor did his determination to use his office to highlight the injustices that continued to exist under his tenure. “We’ve got to have the guts to say that these are issues that need to be fixed,” he told a group of black journalists during a meeting at the White House last year.

As news broke Thursday of Holder’s decision to retire after almost six years in the job as the first black leader of the Justice Department, civil rights activists were quick to praise him. “No attorney general has demonstrated a civil rights record that is similar to Eric Holder’s,” Al Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network, told reporters in Washington.

“Attorney General Holder never shied away from the issues that greatly affect us all,” Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain activist Medgar Evers, said in a statement.

Through his tenure, Holder often referred to the portrait of his predecessor Robert F. Kennedy, which hangs in his office, as a guiding light for him. Like Kennedy’s efforts to address civil rights issues in the 1960s, Holder’s department made criminal justice reform a priority, and has worked aggressively to continue to challenge limits on voting rights after the Supreme Court overturned parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Holder has also launched a number of high profile investigations of the conduct of local police departments in about 20 cities, often obtaining consent agreements that change police conduct.

In a major address to the American Bar Association in August of 2013, Holder did not just lay out a set of reforms to reduce prison terms and improve rehabilitation efforts, but he also challenged the country for what he saw as moral failures. “One deeply troubling report… indicates that in recent years black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes,” he said. “This isn’t just unacceptable—it is shameful. It’s unworthy of our great country, and our great legal tradition.”

Before speaking those words, he had given a draft of his remarks to Obama during a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. In an interview with TIME earlier this year, Holder recalled Obama’s reaction. “It’s a gutsy speech,” the President told him, encouraging him to deliver the speech.

Holder also spoke multiple times about the discrimination he believed he had experienced as a black man. “I am the attorney general of the United States, but I am also a black man,” he said during a visit to a community meeting in Ferguson, Mo., this year, where he recounted his anger at being stopped by police while running down the street in Washington, D.C., and while driving on the New Jersey turnpike. “I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

Like many other efforts, he spoke these words not just as a cabinet secretary but as a social activist, urging the country to be better. “The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney General of the United States,” he said in Ferguson. “This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.”

TIME White House

The 10 Shortest Stints in the Oval Office

William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia during his first term, is the shortest serving U.S. President

When presidential hopefuls envision their time in office, it’s almost certain that none dream of anything less than a four year stint. Most probably aspire to eight. But a surprisingly high 23% of all U.S. presidents—10 out of our 43 commanders in chief—never made it through a single full term.

So why have so many of our nation’s chief executives called the White House home for less than four years? To find out, see the list compiled by research engine FindTheBest below.

 

10. John Tyler

In office 3.92 years

1841-1845

John Tyler came the closest to completing four years in office of all 10 presidents on the list above. He was also the first president to reach the White House without being elected to office, assuming the title upon President Harrison’s death in 1841. Although he started running for reelection in the 1844 campaign, he withdrew his candidacy in August due to insufficient support from the Whig party.

 

9. Andrew Johnson

In office 3.86 years

1865-1869

Andrew Johnson ascended to the presidency after President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Johnson wanted a quick reconciliation with the South in post-Civil War America, so he didn’t give protection to former slaves, and was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868 as a result. He was acquitted by the Senate by one vote, and remained in office to see his term through, but had lost the support he needed to run for reelection in 1870.

 

8. Chester A. Arthur

In office 3.86 years

1881-1885

Chester A. Arthur became the fourth vice president to attain the presidency through the death of a predecessor—in this case, James A. Garfield. Arthur chose not to run for reelection, and returned to practicing law instead. Almost a year after his presidency ended, however, he fell ill and died.

 

7. John F. Kennedy

In office 2.83 years

1961-1963

Perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved presidents, John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Oswald was arrested on the same day of the assassination, but he was shot and killed by a man named Jack Ruby two days later. While the FBI and the Warren Commission investigation concluded that Oswald had acted alone, the exact details of what happened are still a mystery, and many conspiracy theories abound.

 

6. Millard Fillmore

In office 2.67 years

1850-1853

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president, and took office after the death of President Taylor in 1850. Unlike the other vice presidents on this list who did not seek reelection, Fillmore threw his hat in the ring in 1852, but lost the Whig nomination to his secretary of state, Daniel Webster. He also ran on the American Party ticket in 1856, but came in third place.

 

5. Warren G. Harding

In office 2.42 years

1921-1923

Warren G. Harding campaigned on the promise of a “return to normalcy” after the First World War. He’s most well-known for the Teapot Dome Scandal, but in recent years has been viewed more positively as a moderate politician who passed the first federal child welfare program and endorsed African-American civil rights. He intended to run for reelection in 1924, but passed away for unknown reasons in 1923. The most likely reason for his death is heart failure, but some have speculated that he was poisoned or committed suicide.

 

4. Gerald Ford

In office 2.42 years

1974-1977

Gerald Ford is the only person to rise to both the presidency and the vice presidency without being elected. He was appointed to the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew resigned in the face of extortion, bribery, and conspiracy charges, and was elevated to the presidency upon Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Ford ran for reelection, defeating Reagan for the Republican nomination, but lost to Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.

 

3. Zachary Taylor

In office 1.33 years

1849-1850

Zachary Taylor rose to stardom when he led (and won) several battles in the Mexican-American War, helping America keep control over the annexed territory of Texas. Although he had little interest in politics, he was persuaded to leverage his popularity and run for the presidency in 1849. Taylor won the election, but died of a stomach related illness shortly into his term.

2. James A. Garfield

In office .54 years

1881-1881

James A. Garfield was elected in 1881, but only served for a few months before he was shot by outraged political office seeker Charles J. Guiteau. Although Garfield was shot in June, he passed away (officially leaving office) 80 days later in September 1881. During his short time as president, Garfield appointed a justice to the U.S. Supreme Court and proposed a civil service reform act that was eventually passed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur.

 

1. William Henry Harrison

In office .08 years

1841-1841

William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia 32 days into his term, claiming the title for shortest presidency by a longshot. It had generally been believed that Harrison caught a cold that lead to pneumonia during his inauguration, where he delivered the longest address in American history, in stormy weather without a coat or gloves. But a 2014 analysis shows that the president actually died of typhoid, and likely contracted it in a marsh close to the White House.

 

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