Could Secret Service Lapses Cost Director Julia Pierson?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson is in the hot seat over the White House break-in a couple weeks ago. Could it cost her her job?

Could Secret Service Lapses Cost Director Julia Pierson?
Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was — as many outlets described — in the hot seat on Tuesday as lawmakers grilled her on lapses in the Secret Service's record in the wake of an intruder breaking into the White House earlier this month.

Pierson testified before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee and clarified how far the intruder — identified as 42-year-old Omar J. Gonzalez —made it into the compound before being tackled by an agent. (Video via Library of Congress)

PIERSON VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: "The officer then engaged Mr. Gonzalez, they crossed into the East Entrance Hall together, made the left turn down the Cross Hall, they stepped momentarily into the East Room, another officer rendered aid, and he was on the ground on the carpet and handcuffed on the Cross Hall, just outside of the Green Room."

Perhaps more concerning, on Tuesday we learned from The Washington Post that agent was off duty and "coincidentally in the house." 

And while that conflicts with some media reports:

JIM ACOSTA FOR CNN: "He went past the stairs leading up to the First Family residence and then ran into the East Room before he was tackled."

It also gives way more details than the original Secret Service press release, which just says Gonzalez "was physically apprehended after entering the White House North Portico doors."

Pierson's account doesn't necessarily conflict with the press release, but many have argued the press release played down the gravity of the breach, with some even calling the Secret Service's reaction misleading. But the hearing wasn't just about the Gonzalez incident. 

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CALIF.) VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: "In fact, on Nov. 11, 2011, shots were fired, the assailant left, while in fact the Secret Service supervisor shut down the response of people who believed, rightfully, there had been shots fired."

That's referring to a report from The Washington Post from Saturday, which detailed how in 2011 it took the Secret Service four days to realize a man — Oscar Ortega-Hernandez — fired a semi-automatic rifle at the White House.

The Post — which has been doing extensive reporting on that and this latest breach — says at least one agent who said she thought she heard gunshots was told to stand down and her concerns were later largely ignored. It's worth noting Pierson was the agency's chief of staff at the time and not director — but that didn't stop some lawmakers from questioning if the problem with the service isn't systemic. 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD) VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: "This agency — if they'd rather be a whistle-blower than to bring their concerns to you ... if you're heading an agency where the folks are not providing you with the information to do the right thing, to make the changes, how do you even know what the problems are?"

When that incident is compounded by the revelation that in 2012, 13 Secret Service agents hired prostitutes during a presidential visit to Colombia — during which time Pierson was also chief of staff — it's easy to see why the agency would be under such scrutiny. (Video via CBS)

In fact, a writer for The New York Times argued the possibility of Pierson losing her job over the Gonzalez incident would be the subtext to the hearings, although President Obama has come out and supported her and the Secret Service after the fence-jumping incident. 

As for Gonzalez, he's in custody and reportedly faces unlawful entry charges, among others. 

This video includes a Getty Image.