White House: Obama still confident in Secret Service chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — A presidential spokesman expressed confidence Thursday in the Secret Service director despite a new investigation into two agents accused of driving into a White House security barrier after a night of drinking.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama was disappointed to learn about the March 4 incident. But Obama believes the director, Joseph Clancy, is the right person to address the agency's problems.

"Nobody has higher standards for the Secret Service than Director Clancy," Schultz said.

Clancy has asked the Homeland Security Department's internal watchdog, rather than the Secret Service, to investigate, Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said. The agency said the agents have been reassigned to nonsupervisory, nonoperational jobs.

The Washington Post first disclosed the investigation, reporting that the agents drove a government car into the security barrier after attending a party for a retiring agent.

The Post reported that one of the agents, Mark Connolly, is the second-in-command on Obama's security detail. The newspaper identified the other agent as George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office.

The leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — Republican chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah and top Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland — issued a statement saying the involvement of senior-level agents "is not only embarrassing but exhibits a clear lack of judgment in a potentially dangerous situation."

In the past six months, several top agency officials, including former Director Julia Pierson, have been forced out amid revelations of security breaches. In September, a Texas man with a knife scaled a White House fence and run deep into the executive mansion before being apprehended.

An internal investigation and an outside panel report both described serious problems within the agency.

A four-member panel of former senior government officials concluded that the agency was too insular and starving for leadership. It recommended an agency outsider to replace Pierson, but Obama went with Clancy. The retired agent had led the agency temporarily after Pierson left.

Incidents of drunken behavior have plagued the agency since at least April 2012, when more than a dozen agents and officers were caught up in a prostitution scandal in advance of a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia.

Also that year, an officer from the uniformed division was arrested after being found drunk and passed out on a Miami street corner about 12 hours after a presidential visit.

In 2014 an agent on a trip to the Netherlands was involved in a drunken incident in a hotel. Weeks earlier, two agents in Florida were involved in a traffic accident that The Post reported involved alcohol. Neither agent was charged by local police.

After the Colombia scandal, then-Director Mark Sullivan issued new conduct rules for agents and officers who were traveling, including ordering that agents stop drinking 10 hours before reporting to duty. Agents and officers have also been ordered to drink alcohol only "in moderate amounts while off duty," according to an updated Secret Service professional conduct manual obtained by The Associated Press.

The new rules would not have applied to the agents involved in the March 4 crash because they both are stationed in Washington.

Chaffetz and Cummings, whose committee has been investigating the problems at the agency, said that while "recent steps have been made to bring new leadership in at the highest levels, this incident begs the question of whether that is enough."