On Wednesday afternoon, the recent whirlwind of controversy surrounding the Secret Service ended with Director Julia Pierson’s resignation, just one day after her testimony before a House committee. Though predictable, the move came suddenly, and while President Obama continues to profess appreciation for Pierson’s service, today’s White House announcement tells you all you need to know about that.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s daily briefing was originally scheduled for 12:15pm, but about half an hour prior to that, it was rescheduled for 3pm. In the interim, news of Pierson’s resignation broke, and the delay for the briefing crept up to nearly an hour. With such a high-profile resignation, and such a long delay from the podium, you might have expected to see Obama take the stage to announce Pierson’s departure. You would be wrong.
Earnest praised Pierson’s “professionalism and character,” and tried to make it all as nice as possible. The story here is supposed to be that Pierson jumped before she could be pushed, but that’s a function of the Secret Service’s unique relationship with the President of the United States, whose very safety depends on an image of unwavering confidence in the agency. Many will chalk up the timing of the resignation to the atomic grilling she took on the Hill yesterday, but that die was likely cast when Obama learned how far the intruder had gotten into the White House, whenever it was that he learned it. That he chose not to deliver a statement today speaks volumes about that.
In his statement on Pierson’s resignation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also announced the formation of an independent panel, and his appointment of Joseph Clancy as interim director. Here’s the full text of Johnson’s statement (via email):
STATEMENT BY SECRETARY JOHNSON ABOUT THE U.S. SECRET SERVICE
Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it. I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation.
As an interim Acting Director of the Secret Service, I am appointing Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011. I appreciate his willingness to leave his position in the private sector on very short notice and return to public service for a period.
Today, I have also asked the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, aided by this Department’s General Counsel, to assume control and direction of the ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the fence jumping incident at the White House on September 19. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas should complete that review and submit findings to me by November 1, 2014.
Finally, I have also determined that scrutiny by a distinguished panel of independent experts of the September 19 incident and related issues concerning the Secret Service is warranted. The Panelists will be named shortly. By December 15, 2014, this panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound. I will also invite the panel to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service, to include recommendations of individuals who come from outside the Secret Service. I will also request that the panel advise me about whether it believes, given the series of recent events, there should be a review of broader issues concerning the Secret Service. The security of the White House compound should be the panel’s primary and immediate priority.
It is worth repeating that the Secret Service is one of the finest official protection services in the world, consisting of men and women who are highly trained and skilled professionals prepared to put their own lives on the line in a second’s notice for the people they protect. Last week, the Secret Service was responsible for the protection of the President as well as 140 visiting heads of state or government as they convened at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Likewise, in August the Secret Service handled the protection of 60 world leaders as they convened in Washington, D.C. for the African Summit. As usual, the Secret Service executed these highly complex and demanding assignments without incident. There is no other protection service in the world that could have done this.