Timeline: The Secret Service's Shifting Story
The fact that a man scaled the White House fence and made it all the way to the East Room before being apprehended was bad enough. But it's been made worse by how the public found out about it. Here's a timeline chronicling the release of information over the past 10 days -- and what wasn't being said.
Day 1: "He was unarmed"
Shortly after President Barack Obama and his family board Marine One for a trip to Camp David, a man, later identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, scales the fence of the White House, crosses the North Lawn and into the North Portico doors of the building. It was 7:20 p.m. Seven minutes later, White House officials usher reporters to West Executive Avenue (about 50 yards from the West Wing) as word spreads that a fence jumper (the second of the week) had made it down the North Lawn driveway.
The U.S. Secret Service sends its first statement out to reporters at 11:50 a.m., identifying Gonzalez and noting that "it appeared to responding officers that he was unarmed, which turned out to be true."
There was only one problem: that was not true. Gonzalez was carrying a folding knife with a 3 1/2 inch serrated blade, which is prohibited by DC code. He also had two hatchets, a machete and 800 rounds of ammunition in his car, later discovered nearby.
Day 2: "Apprehended just inside ..."
The Secret Service posts an official statement online, noting "Gonzalez failed to comply with responding Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers’ verbal commands, and was physically apprehended after entering the White House North Portico doors." The statement added that Gonzalez was "apprehended just inside the North Portico Doors of the White House." While it is "unacceptable" for Gonzalez to reach that point in the White House, the statement commends officers for showing "tremendous restraint."
*The U.S. files a criminal complaint against Gonzalez in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. According to the complaint, "Omar Gonzalez went through the north doors of the White House and entered the White House. Soon thereafter, inside the White House Omar Gonzalez was apprehended by United States Secret Service Officers." The complaint also reveals that Gonzalez was carrying a knife.
Besides the first official confirmation that Gonzalez in fact was armed, this represented a stunning understatement. Both the statement and the complaint suggested that the suspect had been captured just inside the White House door, when in fact he had charged past the guards and wasn't tackled until he reached the East Room.
Day 4: "Obviously he is very concerned"
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in his first news briefing since the arrest, said he discussed the incident with Obama and that the president "did indicate, as you would expect, his family lives in the White House and so obviously he is very concerned by the incident that occurred on Friday evening."
Quite likely. The Washington Post reported that the President and First Lady Michelle Obama were furious in 2011, when the White House was struck by seven bullets fired by a gunman lurking 700 yards away. This incident — in which Gonzalez apparently ran past the stairs leading to the family's living quarters, and guards failed even to lock the front door as he approached — couldn't have gone over well.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announces he will hold a September 30 hearing on the incident. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson is scheduled to testify.
Day 12: "Only last night did the public learn that, in fact, it was far worse"
Pierson testifies and confirms that Gonzalez made it deep into the White House before being wrestled to the ground and apprehended. "I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again," Pierson told lawmakers in her opening statement.
Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman of the Oversight panel, points out the discrepancies between the initial Secret Service statements and the facts. "Only last night did the public learn that, in fact, it was far worse," Issa said.
Shortly after Pierson's testimony, the Washington Post broke another story on the incident. Were it not for an off-duty officer, Gonzalez likely would've gotten even further into the White House.
Earnest, in today's briefing with reporters, declined to address the discrepancies between Secret Service statements and the fuller news reports.
Day 12, Part 2: "I feel like the Committee was misled"
Hours after Pierson's testimony, the Washington Examiner and the Washington Post report that Obama was on an elevator with a former convict carrying a gun, who was providing private security for the President's trip to the Centers for Disease Control on Sept. 16. Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the story appeared to contradict Pierson's testimony. "I feel the committee was misled," Lynch said in a statement to Bloomberg Politics.
Day 13: "I do not feel comfortable with her in that position"
Pierson's grip on her job appears to be slipping. While multiple White House officials took to the air waves and said the president continued to have confidence in her as the agency's director, lawmakers began to call for a resignation. For a time it looked like that group included Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and a close ally of the White House. "I do not feel comfortable with her in that position," Cummings said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
He later took to Twitter to say he had not decided whether Pierson needed to step down. It's almost as if someone called him and told him to walk his statement back.