Two U.S. Secret Service agents had been drinking and probably were impaired when they disrupted an investigation of an unattended package outside the White House as they drove back from a bar, government investigators said in a report released Thursday.
The agents in the March 4 incident spent five hours at an Irish bar and restaurant less than a mile from the White House, celebrating a colleague’s retirement, before driving into the scene of an investigation where other agents were trying to determine whether a package was a bomb, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s report said.
The findings are the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Secret Service, whose main job is to protect the U.S. president. Lapses include security breaches at the White House and misconduct by agents.
The inspector general’s office is investigating two more Secret Service incidents in March alone. In one case, agents may have used agency computers to access the job application of Jason Chaffetz, who is now the U.S. House member who leads the committee with oversight responsibility for the service. In the other, a senior manager -- after another farewell bash that involved drinking -- allegedly sexually assaulted a female subordinate.
Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, and Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight panel, said in a joint statement Thursday that the report’s findings point to the need to change the Secret Service’s “dysfunctional environment.” They noted a line in the report that said the watch commander on duty the evening of the incident said it would be a ‘career killer’’ to conduct field sobriety tests on the two agents.
“Unfortunately this report makes clear that there’s still much work to be done to improve the culture of the Secret Service,” Cummings said at a hearing of the committee on Thursday.
In the March 4 incident, Marc Connolly, the deputy special agent in charge of the president’s protective detail, and agent George Ogilvie were probably “impaired by alcohol,” the report concluded. Inspector General John Roth released the report before testifying at the hearing.
“While during their interviews each denied drinking to excess that evening, we must assess those denials in light of the Uniformed Division officers’ observations of the agents’ behavior, the fact that they had just spent the last five hours in a restaurant/bar, and that two highly experienced Secret Service supervisors drove into a crime scene inches from what the rest of the Secret Service was treating as a potential explosive device,” the report said.
Ogilvie bought 14 drinks in three hours at the bar, according to the report. He told investigators he consumed fewer than three drinks all night, and Connolly said he had just two beers. Two other Secret Service employees said they consumed three drinks that Ogilvie bought, and he told investigators he gave away the rest but couldn’t remember to whom.
After leaving the bar, Connolly asked Ogilvie for a ride back to the White House, where he had parked his car. Upon arriving, Ogilvie drove his government-issued SUV past barriers that other agents had erected around the package they were investigating. His car passed “within inches” of the package, the report said.
One officer on the scene, who has more than 25 years of experience, told investigators “he had never seen anything like this,” the report said. Ogilvie had his head back in his seat and “his eyes were wide open as if he was trying hard not to blink.” Notes that other agents took said both Ogilvie and Connolly had a “’deer in the headlights’ look,” according to the report.
“I am disappointed and disturbed at the apparent lack of judgment described in this report,” Joseph Clancy, the Secret Service’s director, said in a statement. “Behavior of the type described in the report is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Our mission is too important.”
Connolly and Ogilvie have been placed on administrative leave, and the Secret Service’s Office of Integrity has requested “supporting information” behind the inspector general’s report, the agency said in the statement. Once that information is reviewed, the service will propose disciplinary actions that the two agents can contest.
Connolly has notified the Secret Service that he plans to retire, according to a government official who asked not to be identified.