The White House defended the Secret Service on Sunday in the wake of a newspaper investigation that details how the agency fumbled its response to a gunman firing upon the White House in 2011, while President Obama’s younger daughter and his mother-in-law were inside.
“The men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line for the president of the United States, his family and folks working in the White House every single day, 24 hours a day,” deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “Their task is incredible and the burden that they bear is incredible.”
Blinken spoke in the wake of the publication of a story in The Washington Post about the Secret Service’s slow and confused response to the 2011 shooting. The gunman, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, was arrested for firing rifle shots at the White House from a nearby street.
The article comes about a week after another man, Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, was arrested and charged with unlawful entry into the White House complex when he eluded several layers of security and entered through the North Portico.
On the night of 2011 shooting, Ortega-Hernandez hit a window on the second floor very close to the first family’s formal living room. “At least seven bullets struck the upstairs residence of the White House, flying some 700 yards across the South Lawn,” the Post reported.
Ortega was arrested days later, but according to the report, it took the Secret Service five days to acknowledge that bullets had hit the White House. Only after a housekeeper noticed broken glass did the Secret Service realize bullets had hit the residential quarters.
President Obama and his wife, Michelle, were not home at the time. When the president returned to the White House days later, he was extremely upset, according to the newspaper.
The Secret Service said it went into action immediately after shots were fired, notifying police and doing a protective sweep. It said that it helped find Ortega-Hernandez’s vehicle and search it for evidence minutes later, and that it helped police conduct their investigation in the following days.
The agency also said that it provided police with Ortega-Hernandez’s location, leading to his arrest, and that after the shooting it made changes to its personnel and procedures.
Blinken said the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, has been looking into what happened.
“The Secret Service is investigating this and they will take any steps necessary to correct any deficiencies,” he said.
The Secret Service has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. In 2012, some agents were involved in a prostitution scandal in Colombia ahead of the president’s visit there.
Banerjee reported from Washington and Lee from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Lauren Raab in Los Angeles contributed to this report.