Two Secret Service agents suspected of driving under the influence and striking a White House security barricade disrupted an active bomb investigation and drove directly beside the suspicious package itself, according to current and former government officials familiar with the incident.
These and other new details about the March 4 incident emerged Thursday from interviews and police records obtained by The Washington Post.
The episode has prompted questions from lawmakers about whether the newly appointed leaders of the Secret Service are capable of turning around the troubled agency. Among the lawmakers’ questions: Whether a Secret Service supervisor, as witnesses have alleged, ordered officers to let the agents go home without facing sobriety testing.
An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is centering on the possible misconduct of two senior agents, including a top supervisor on President Obama’s protective detail.
The incident unfolded on a hectic night for Secret Service officers guarding the White House.
About 10:25 that night, a Pennsylvania woman hopped out of her blue Toyota near the southeast entrance of the White House on 15th Street NW, and, holding a package wrapped in a green shirt, approached an agent.
“I’m holding an [expletive] bomb,” she yelled, according to a government official with knowledge of the incident.
The woman then put the object on the ground and retreated to her car, the official said. The agent ran to the car and opened the front passenger door and ordered the woman to get out. But she then put the car in reverse and accelerated, striking the agent with the open door. The agent reached inside the car and forced it into park, said the government official, but the woman was able to shift it back into drive and drive forward, again hitting the agent and forcing him to jump out of the way.
The woman then sped off.
Police quickly secured the area with tape and called an explosives inspection team to check the package for potential explosive materials or other dangers.
But shortly before 11 p.m., the two high-ranking Secret Service agents, returning from a work party at a Chinatown bar about eight blocks from the White House, drove their government car through the crime scene. According to people familiar with the incident, they drove through police tape and then hit a temporary barricade, using the car to push aside some barrels. An agency official said Thursday that the car was not damaged.
The episode was caught on surveillance video. Investigators who reviewed the tape of the incident initially said they couldn’t be sure if the pair drove very close to or over the suspicious item wrapped in the shirt, one law enforcement official said. But after reviewing more tape later on Thursday afternoon, the official said, they concluded the agents’ government car drove directly next to the package.
Secret Service officers on duty that night considered the agents’ behavior to be erratic and suspected they were drunk, according to current and former officials familiar with the incident.
The officers wanted to arrest the agents — but a more senior supervisor at the complex told them to let the agents go, the officials said.
Meanwhile, at 11:45 p.m. the police explosives team determined the suspicious item was not a threat and gave the complex the all clear. The item was a book.
Secret Service officers found the woman two days later to question her about her threats on the White House. A government official said she has had contact with the Secret Service in the past, and that the agency had her photo on file.
On Thursday, a government official said a warrant for the woman’s arrest had been issued through a D.C. court, charging her with assault with a dangerous weapon, the car. The warrant remains sealed and it was unclear on Thursday whether the woman was in custody.
The Secret Service agents under investigation are Marc Connolly, the second-in-command on Obama’s detail, and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office. Both men have declined to comment. They have been shifted to “non-supervisory, non-operational assignments,” an official said.
The incident has presented an early test for Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy, who was appointed last month by Obama following a string of embarrassing agency missteps and security lapses.
On Thursday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he was concerned that the events of March 4 suggest some in the Secret Service feel they are above the law.
“The director needs to send a message. He needs to signal there is going to be new accountability in the agency,” Chaffetz said. “We’re still learning all the facts, but I’m still not very impressed by how this is going.”
Asked Thursday about the reports of the Secret Service accident, a spokesman for Obama said aboard Air Force One that the president retains full confidence in Clancy.
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