December 4, 2009
Hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee
Subject: The United States Secret Service and presidential protection: An examination of a system failure
REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you, Mr. Sullivan, for being before us today. First of all, let me say that I think the Secret Service does a great job and that it saddens me to see that there was such a lapse this time at the White House.
In the past, I know that there’s always been close communication between the social secretary for the White House — legislative affairs, for example, if we’re going to have the congresspeople come for the Christmas party — and every single time that I have entered the White House, there has always been somebody from the White House there at the very first point, before you ever even get to the checkpoint where they check your purses, et cetera — every time. Even if it’s just been a meeting with the president over a particular policy, there’s always been somebody out there.
So the first question I have for you is, in this pre-planning meeting, did you all decide that no one would be specifically assigned from the social secretary’s office or legislative affairs or what have you at the first checkpoint? Was that a decision made? Because I heard you say there were going to be roving people, but was there a definite decision that nobody would be standing next to the Secret Service as people first made entry or attempt to come into the event?
MR. SULLIVAN: You know, my understanding, Congresswoman, is that there was an agreement that at that initial checkpoint, we would man — we would have that list on our own. And that if any discrepancy did come up, that we would then call for somebody — you know, that person was to call for their supervisor, and they, in fact, would get in contact with somebody from the staff who was down around the main entrance point at the East Wing, and they would be available to come out and help out with the issue.
REP. SANCHEZ: So your feeling is that your first Secret Service agent who was standing there with the list and realized that the couple in question was not on there, that in fact, their purpose was then to call over somebody from the White House and confer as to what to do with that person.
MR. SULLIVAN: Correct. You know, ma’am, every day we have people show up to various gates at the White House who, you know —
REP. SANCHEZ: Aren’t supposed to be there.
MR. SULLIVAN: — and they want to come in. And every day, you know, our people will make the appropriate phone calls, appropriate contact to see if maybe we’ve missed something on our list and if, in fact, these people are expected to arrive. And I’d look at this no different. For me, this began and ended at that checkpoint. It was a simple protocol, simple procedure that we had in place that if somebody came up who wasn’t on the list, make contact with somebody who could come and help you expedite that individual in or determine if, in fact, they should be turned away.
REP. SANCHEZ: And that’s why it surprises me because every time that I’ve been to the White House and I’ve had a guest who has been vetted ahead of time with Social Security number and everything else we need to supply, and showing IDs, there are still times when we are set aside and said, wait, we don’t have your guest on the list; let’s talk about this. But it has always come in conjunction with somebody from the White House.
So why in this particular instance — because I’ve never seen this instance before, and it’s been under three presidents that I’ve been going to the White House — Democrat and Republican — I have never just seen a Secret Service agent, in particular, with such an important process, with so many important people waiting in line to get through, why would you — I’ll agree that no person from the White House would be standing there — first of all, to greet guests, which is one of the most important things that the social secretary should be doing at that point — but at the same time, if there were problems, to immediately be able to take care of them and start some chain-of-line to figure out is this person here. Why ahead of time? I’ve never seen this happen before. Why would you all agree to that?
MR. SULLIVAN: I would acknowledge that I believe that is very rare. I haven’t seen that happen, myself, all that often, and I do believe that the statement — the memorandum that was put out by the White House yesterday, I believe that they recognized that, as well, and that they stated in that memorandum that, you know, we’re there to work as partners to make sure that we can get everybody in who should get in and prevent people from getting in who shouldn’t come in.
And I do believe that because of this particular issue last week, I think there’s a recognition by all of us that that is the way things should be done. And I think going forward — or, I know going forward that is the way things are going to be done.
REP. SANCHEZ: I thank you for taking responsibility but I think there’s a lot of responsibility that should be spread out on this. Thank you, Mr. Sullivan, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.