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The Key Question the Secret Service Chief Couldn't Answer About the Department's Latest Blunder

The Key Question the Secret Service Chief Couldn't Answer About the Department's Latest Blunder

"We had a good stern talk..."

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy admitted to Congress on Tuesday that he has no idea why it took him almost a week to learn from his subordinates about an incident in which two Secret Service agents drove under the influence of alcohol and hit a White House barricade.

The two agents reportedly were driving under the influence after attending a work party on the evening of Wednesday, March 4. Those agents also appear to have interrupted an active bomb investigation that was taking place at the time.

But Clancy told the House Appropriations Committee that he didn't even hear about the incident at all until Monday, March 9.

"I did not hear of this incident until Monday. So this was on Wednesday night, I found out Monday," he said.

Clancy also said his own staff hadn't heard about it when he asked them that Monday. "I asked my staff if they had heard about it, they had not heard about it," he said.

"I brought my staff in on Monday, and we discussed why I didn't know prior to Monday of this event," he said. "We had a good stern talk about that."

Clancy's weak answers were met by shock and disappointment by members of the committee. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he couldn't believe it took so long and asked again why there was a problem conveying that information.

Clancy couldn't answer the question, and said he's hoping the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General might know. "That's what we're trying to find out through, obviously, the Office of Inspector General," he answered.

But that answer only brought a rebuke from Rogers.

"I don't care about the Office of Inspector General," Rogers snapped. "God love them and good luck to them. You're in charge." Rogers would later say that waiting for the Inspector General is "hogwash."

"This is an administrative problem you've got, among other things," Rogers said. "Why did you not get word from your subordinates about this incident for what, five or six days?"

But Clancy still had no answer, and could only promise at some point that there would be "accountability" for what happened, and that he would work harder to earn the trust of his subordinates to information flows up to his position.

"I've got to work to earn that trust, and I'm going to do that through my actions," he said.

Rogers was having none of it. "Your actions, in my judgment, should be punishment, termination, firing people who have subordinated their command," he said. "You can't run an agency like this for God's sake, or any other agency, unless you have discipline in the ranks."

Clancy said penalties or firings weren't imminent, and that instead he would let the investigation work itself out. "No financial penalties," he said.

The hearing only got worse for Clancy, as he tried to blame stresses that agents feel on the job, and the "culture" of the Secret Service. Amazing, Clancy seemed to admit that many agents have a drinking problem.

"There is an element within our agency… that does cope with the stresses that many of you have mentioned today by using alcohol," he said. "There's no question, we have that element."

And on the question of why information isn't flowing correctly to the top, he said vaguely that the culture has to change.

"It's going to take time to change, maybe, some of this culture," he said. "There's no excuse for this information not to come up the chain."

Rogers wasn't the only angry member, and was joined by other Republicans and Democrats who reacted in disbelief to the passive testimony of Clancy, and his general lack of information about how his agency works.

"I don't understand this one bit," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

"It seems to me it should take time to help people who think this is the culture to go get another job," she said. "How can we, as members of Congress, have respect for an agency that feels it's OK?"

"I find this testimony shocking," she added.

Clancy said he couldn't move too quickly against anyone until the agents in question get due process.

"I don't have the ability to just fire people at will," he said. "In the government, my understanding is you cannot do that."

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