Once again, the man who jumped the fence and ran onto the White House a little over a week ago was a hot topic at today’s White House briefing, but late-breaking reporting fromThe Washington Post sheds new light on the incident, and from the reaction inside the White House today, I’m thinking stuff’s about to get real.
At Monday’s daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly assured reporters that President Obama has the utmost confidence in the Secret Service, and agency Director Julia Pierson, despite the security breach that allowed Omar Gonzalez to jump the White House fence and make it all the way to the entrance of the White House. However, that was before that WaPo report broke, which included, among other details, this new bit of info:
The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.
…After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.
Gonzalez was tackled by a counterassault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.
That means that instead of being stopped just inside the entrance, Gonzalez ran pretty much clean through the White House, although as one cameraman joked this afternoon, at least he didn’t make himself a sandwich. The news shook the White House press room Monday evening, as reporters realized just how perilous this incident could have become. The distance this man traveled within the White House could easily have taken him right into the living area of the residence.
Director Pierson is set to testify about the incident on Capitol Hill tomorrow, and while the White House has thus far been in the Secret Service’s corner, their reaction to this latest story indicates that might be about to change. They are not confirming WaPo’s reporting, but their initial reaction was to point out that no one from Secret Service or the White House had actually confirmed the exact location where Gonzalez had been apprehended. According to the initial reporting on the incident, though, that’s not the case:
The man, who was not armed, was arrested just inside the doors, Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said.
That means that someone was trying to pin that initial story on overzealous reporting, but if WaPo‘s reporting today is true, then it would appear that someone at Secret Service tried to downplay the incident. The question is whether they did so only to their spokesman, or to the White House staff and the President, as well. So far, the reaction within the White House has seemed to be one of surprise. If President Obama turns out to be one of the people being surprised by the news that a man with a knife made it this far into the White House, and was a wrong-turn away from his children’s living area, it will be tough to grin through this.
What’s equally disturbing is that the easily-fixable flaw in the White House fence that allowed Gonzalez to jump over the fence in the first place hasn’t been fixed, and multiple Secret Service sources I spoke to on Monday were not even aware of it. As you can see in the photograph above, taken this afternoon, the spot where the temporary fence joins the permanent fence still affords would-be trespassers an easy vault onto the North Lawn. A hundred bucks and ten minutes at a Home Depot, and that guy never even gets over that fence.
President Obama has been super-patient and diplomatic about the many problems that the Secret Service has had during his presidency, partly out of genuine gratitude for the risks they take in his service, but if this guy really made it that far, and someone at the Secret Service tried to keep it from him, that someone is about to have a bad day.