U.S. Secret Service Director Joe Clancy told a Senate panel Thursday that reports of two agents crashing into a gate at the White House were “inaccurate,” but added that it was “unacceptable” for him to have found out about the incident until five days after it occurred.
“Previous reports of a crash are inaccurate — there was no crash,” Clancy said at a Senate Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee hearing. Other Secret Service sources have also said in recent days that media reports describing a “crash” overstated the incident.
“The video shows the vehicle entering the White House complex at a speed of approximately one to two miles per hour, and pushing aside a plastic barrel. There was no damage to the vehicle,” he said.
But Clancy also said that he is “very unhappy” that he did not learn of the alleged incident – for which two senior agents are still being investigated – until five days after it occurred and pledged to hold accountable any agents found to have concealed information.
“If it is determined that any one of our employees concealed information about this alleged incident, they will be held accountable,” he told the panel. “Our mission is too important for this to happen. It undermines my leadership and I won’t stand for it.”
Clancy stressed in his remarks that the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation is still ongoing and says he is “extremely concerned” about the allegations leveled against his agents, including allegations that the agents driving the vehicle were intoxicated. But he told the Senate panel that he couldn’t fire anyone until the inspector general’s investigation is finished.
“I do not have the ability to simply terminate employees based solely on allegations of misconduct,” he said. “This is not because I am being lenient, but because the agency’s ability to take action is controlled by Title 5 of the United States Code, which provides federal government employees with certain statutory, due process rights.”
But he promised: “If the investigation reveals misconduct, those involved will be punished.”
Clancy said he reviewed the surveillance footage of the incident earlier this month, which he said shows that the Secret Service agents were driving “at a speed of approximately 1-2 mph” before he says they pushed aside a plastic barrel, without damaging the vehicle.
And while he initially agreed to review the footage with lawmakers, he admitted on Thursday that the video may have been lost, because the surveillance tapes are taped over every 72 hours.
“I know that’s a concern,” Clancy said, adding the agency had reached out to the manufacturer of the surveillance system and the agency’s computer experts to try to recover the footage.
“We’re doing everything we can to retrieve those images to be as transparent as we can be,” he added.
The Washington Post previously reported that two agents hit a gate outside the White House and interfered with an active investigation into a suspicious package. A senior supervisor on the scene also reportedly overruled another agent who wanted to breathalyze the agents in the vehicle, according to the Post.
Clancy also emphasized during his testimony that he cannot simply fire agents accused of misconduct, not because he is “being lenient,” but because of federal statutes overseeing the Secret Service.
Instead, Clancy stressed that he has “made extensive personnel changes in senior leadership” since taking the helm of the agency and has been working to restore credibility to an agency that has faced repeated blunders in recent months and years.
Clancy testified before the Senate on Thursday at 2 p.m., two days after he faced a tough grilling in the House of Representatives and as he continues to face scrutiny from lawmakers weary of Secret Service debacles.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to identify the media outlet that reported two Secret Service agents hit a gate outside the White House and interfered with an active investigation.