On Saturday morning, what should have been a routine departure aboard Marine One for President Obama and his family turned dramatic when a “loud noise” caused the Secret Service to scrub the departure, and lock all of the reporters in the White House briefing room. The drama played out in a series of pool reports from Hearst’s David McCumber, and on Twitter:
10:15 am – As pool and other press gathered outside near the South Lawn for the departure of President Obama and he First Family on the way to Selma, Ala., for a historic 50th anniversary march, a loud noise was heard. Secret Service then moved press back into the briefing room and locked the doors. Will advise as situation develops.
10:24 am – Secret Service just unlocked the door to the press room. When pooler asked if the security situation was over, he said, “it’s not over but the door’s unlocked.” Secret Service still standing by outside their vehicles near North Portico. Others still patrolling grounds. No further information available; pool wrangler not in briefing room.
10:33 am – Now briefing room door has been locked again. Pool still holding sans information.
Meanwhile, reports of a food truck fire began making the rounds on social media:
15th street south of the White House is currently closed to all traffic (including runners) due to vendor truck fire pic.twitter.com/DfZTfsSoAn
— Pacers Running (@runpacers) March 7, 2015
McCumber’s pool reports continued:
10:47 am – Lockdown continues, although it doesn’t appear as though there’s a high level of consternation among Secret Service walking outside. Just now Twitter photos are appearing of a fire at a nearby souvenir stand. Pooler is unable to confirm this is cause of lockdown but seems likely.
Video of the fire, taken by Helen Hou-Sandí, appeared on Youtube in short order:
This is probably a good half-mile from Marine One landing pad. Video: Fire by the White House: http://t.co/tifmYO6HX3
— Tommy Christopher (@tommyxtopher) March 7, 2015
Finally, the helicopter departure was scrubbed, and the motorcade was assembled:
10:59 am – Now motorcade cars lining up. Trip to Andrews instead of South Lawn helicopter departure? Not confirmed, but seems likely.
11:09 am – Very quick motorcade load and departure at 11:08 am. Rolling en route Joint Base Andrews.
In my six years covering the White House, there have been a variety of security situations that have come up, including once when we were evacuated from the White House grounds, but never have I been locked in the briefing room. It seemed odd that a loud noise alone would spook the Secret Service into taking that kind of step. According to WTOP, though, the Secret Service was also investigating a vehicle on the same block that a bomb-sniffing dog keyed in on:
Around the same time, (Secret Service spokesman Brian) Leary says a bomb-sniffing dog detected something on a vehicle at 16th Street and Constitution Avenue. That vehicle is being checked out by the Secret Service and other law enforcement officials.
It’s also fair to say that the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama is an occasion ripe with significance, and thus, for threats to the first black president. The Secret Service is not saying whether they believe the two incidents are related, but both the fire and the reported location of that suspicious vehicle are well away from the spot on the South Lawn where President Obama and his family would have boarded Marine One. The fact that they were on the road to Andrews within 40 minutes is an indication that in the end, the threat was not considered serious.