Secret Service director pledges commitment to fixing agency's ills

Secret Service director seeks fresh start on Capitol Hill

The head of the Secret Service assured lawmakers Thursday he is committed to doing "what is necessary" to put the embattled agency back on track, while also seeking to correct reports about a recent embarrassment that provided an early test of his leadership.

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy cited video evidence that counters initial news reports last week that senior agency officials in a government vehicle, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, ran into a barricade on White House grounds and disrupted an investigation March 4.

"There was no crash," Clancy said, and no damage to the vehicle. The comment echoed his efforts during a budget hearing Tuesday to cast the episode as a less serious breach of protocol. He described the officials as driving slowly and nudging the barricade out of the way on purpose, rather than running into it.

Thursday's appearance before a Senate panel offered Clancy, who was named permanently to his post last month, a chance to make a stronger impression on lawmakers than he did at that hearing. His tentative answers and overall performance Tuesday led a committee chairman to question whether he was committed to making necessary changes in the Secret Service after a string of scandals that have battered the storied agency's reputation.

Clancy cited "extensive personnel changes" he made as interim director in January before President Obama named him the permanent chief.

"These were not easy decisions, and many of the people who left served the agency and our country honorably during their careers. But as the leader of this organization, I will do what is necessary to put us back on the right track," he said.

Clancy vowed that staff members who fail to meet his standards -- particularly those who may have misled him about the March 4 incident -- will be held accountable.

"Our mission is too important for this to happen. It undermines my leadership, and I won't stand for it," he said.

But he also reminded lawmakers that he is bound by federal law that gives employees due process rights.

"I do not have the ability to simply terminate employees based solely on allegations of misconduct. This is not because I am being lenient," he said. "While I am extremely concerned by the allegations of misconduct and the potential for alcohol involvement, I must reserve judgment."

Clancy has asked the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to investigate what happened with the two agents on March 4. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has also said that his panel would launch its own inquiry in an effort to provide a more immediate accounting of what went wrong.

Lawmakers also raised complaints about a Secret Service policy of maintaining security video for just 72 hours. Clancy said the tapes are not erased, only recycled, and acknowledged  the concerns the policy raises. He said the agency was working with its video manufacturer to see whether video of the March 4 episode from additional angles could be recovered.

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


2:28 p.m.: This story has been updated with comments from the hearing.