iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Alcohol “more likely than not” played a role when two veteran Secret Service agents drove through a crime scene barricade at a White House entrance after a night of partying. That’s the conclusion of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, whose investigation of the embarrassing, March 4 incident was released.
The IG report found that the agents came “within inches” of driving over a potential bomb when their car pushed past a makeshift barricade intended to protect a suspicious package left at the E Street entrance to the White House. Fortunately, that suspicious package turned out to be a book.
The boozy episode came on the heels of a series of Secret Service gaffes — from agents cavorting with prostitutes overseas, to a White House fence jumper who made it all the way inside the president’s home. It set off a renewed firestorm of criticism of the agency, prompting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy to ask the DHS inspector general to investigate.
In response to the IG report, Clancy said in a statement: “I am disappointed and disturbed at the apparent lack of judgment described in this report. Behavior of the type described in the report is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Our mission is too important.”
The investigation is complete, and it contains some damning new details about the behavior of agents Marc Connolly and George Ogilvie on the night of the incident, and raises questions about accountability at the agency charged with protecting the president.
Agents Connolly and Ogilvie “displayed poor judgment and a lack of situation awareness in driving into the scene. … We conclude that it was more likely than not that both Connolly’s and Ogilvie’s judgment was impaired by alcohol,” the report says.
A Night of Partying
The evening of March 4 began with a two-hour, open-bar, retirement party for a Secret Service colleague. After the party wrapped up, Connolly, Ogilvie and two other unnamed Secret Service personnel lingered at the bar, according to the investigation.
“Ogilvie opened a tab at 7:44 p.m. and paid it three hours later, at 10:45 p.m. On his bill, there were charges for eight glasses of scotch, two vodka drinks, one glass of wine and three glasses of beer.” The report says that Ogilvie acknowledged having two scotches and a beer, but Connolly maintained he only had two beers during the open-bar portion of the party, and drank ginger ale after that.
According to the IG report, at 10:45 p.m. the group left the bar and Connolly asked Ogilvie for a ride back to the White House. The two men badged their way through a Secret Service traffic stop at 15th and F Streets that was set up to keep traffic away from the suspicious package investigation. They turned into the 15th and E Streets entrance to the White House complex just before 11 p.m.
The IG report says the two men have different recollections of what exactly happened, but in short they tried to maneuver through the bike racks and an orange traffic barrel set up to protect the suspicious package investigation.
The report says, “It appears from the review of the video that the barrel moved more than five feet, being pushed along the concrete and brick walkway. This was no mere “bump,” but rather extended contact to shove the barrel out of the way. Additionally, apparently unknown to Ogilvie, his car passed within inches of the suspicious package during this process.”
Three uniformed Secret Service officers approached the car at that point and started asking questions. The report says, “All three officers at the scene thought something was ‘not right.’ They did not smell any alcohol, and none of them noted that either agent slurred their speech or otherwise appeared intoxicated, but each of the officers thought that the agents ‘were not making sense.”
The Chain of Command Breakdown
One of the officers called the watch commander. The officer told investigators that he told the commander that he didn’t smell alcohol, and could not know if alcohol was involved. But the watch commander said he recalls that the officer saying that the two agents “may be drunk.” Agent Ogilvie conceded to the watch commander that he had been drinking, but the commander told investigators that he did not believe Ogilvie was intoxicated.
However, the watch commander’s statement about Ogilvie was “contradicted by his statement to other witnesses that night,” according to the IG report. Other officers on the scene said the watch commander had told them that both agents were under the influence, and described their condition as being “hammered.” One officer said that the watch commander told him he did not perform a field sobriety test on the agents because that would be a “career killer.” The long and short of it was that both Ogilvie and Connolly were allowed to leave, and drive home in their government cars.
According the IG report, “neither Connolly nor Ogilvie notified their superiors of the incident,” in apparent violation of Secret Service policy. Moreover, the report found, “The incident with Connolly and Ogilvie was not memorialized in writing by any Secret Service personnel.” Even the report that was written about the suspicious package incident by the watch commander “omitted the incursion of the crime scene by Ogilvie and Connolly.”
The watch commander, who reported under the chain of command to Agent Connolly, “reported the facts” to two superiors that night, but no action was taken and no report was filed. The IG found that “The watch commander and his subordinates should have been able to rely on their superior officers to … report the situation.”
Although a number of officers and agents were aware of the incident, Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy only learned about it five days later because of an email from a retired agent. At first, the report says, Clancy thought the email was bogus. But after finding out the allegations had merit, he asked the DHS IG to investigate. The IG found that there was no evidence that any “video of the incident was intentionally deleted or destroyed.”
The report is highly critical of both Connolly and Ogilvie, not only for their behavior on the night of March 4, but for their lack of reporting. “Both Connolly and Ogilvie had a duty to report the incident, but did not do so,” the report states.
And it is highly skeptical of the agents’ stories about how much they drank that night:
“While during their interviews each denied drinking to excess that evening, we must assess those denials in light of the UD’s [Uniform Division officers’] observations of the officer’s behaviors, the fact that they had just spent the last five hours in a restaurant/bar in which Ogilvie ran up a significant bar tab (at least some of which he was unable to account for), and that two highly experienced SS supervisors drove into a crime scene inches from what the rest of the SS was treating as an explosive device.”
Some sources who were in attendance at the party questioned the thoroughness of the IG investigation and say they were never interviewed for their perspective on the evening’s events.
Both Connolly and Ogilvie have been placed on administrative leave and any additional disciplinary action is pending the outcome of a review by the Secret Service Office of Integrity.
“The Secret Service takes allegations of employee misconduct very seriously,” Clancy said in a statement.
“Any employee, regardless of rank or seniority, who has committed provable misconduct, will be held accountable,” he added.
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