Rep. Darrell Issa’s two terms as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have been marked by hearings on issues that seemed to greatly excite members of the hard right, Issa himself (R-CA) and the anti-Obama element of the Republican Party. Until now, Chairman Issa’s tendency to work himself into high dudgeon over scandals, including the “Fast and Furious” investigation and Lois Lerner’s IRS emails have failed to get real traction with the broader American public.
This morning, however, given the latest news reports about the severity of the Secret Service’s lapses in protecting the White House, Issa might finally get what he seems to have wanted all along – the chance to indulge in some high-profile righteous anger that has the sentiment of the American people behind it.
Today at 10 a.m. Issa’s committee will hear from Secret Service Director Julia Pierson about last week’s breach of White House Security by former Army sniper Oscar Gonzalez. The 42-year-old Iraq War veteran jumped the fence of the executive mansion, evaded security, and actually entered the White House proper.
The hearing had already been scheduled before The Washington Post broke the news Monday afternoon that the Secret Service’s initial claim that Gonzalez had been stopped in the White House foyer was false.
Gonzalez, according to reporting by The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig, actually made it past the front door, past a stairway leading to the First Family’s residence, and through the ceremonial East Room before being tackled by a Secret Service agent. Gonzalez was carrying a small knife, but it is so far unclear if he was brandishing it as a weapon or simply had it in a pocket.
The hearing will also address another major story from Leonnig about the Secret Service’s mishandling of an incident in 2011. A man fired multiple rounds from an automatic rifle at the White House, striking a window not far from the Obama family’s residence.
The Secret Service originally – and incorrectly – attributed the reports of shots fired near the White House to unspecified individuals exchanging gunfire on Constitution Avenue. Only days later, when a housekeeper found shards of broken glass and another White House worker identified bullet holes, did the agency launch a full investigation.
Piled on top of incidents such as a prostitution scandal in South America, drunkenness in Amsterdam, and the use of uniformed Secret Service agents to settle a personal dispute in Maryland, miles away from the White House, the American public seems to have ample reason to be furious with the Secret Service.
For Darrell Issa, that may just represent the chance to end his term on the Oversight Committee in a blaze of glory, rather than leaving with a record that can be described, generously, as largely partisan and unproductive.
One intriguing footnote: Tuesday’s hearing may not be entirely public. Director Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the Secret Service, has asked Issa’s committee to hold the first part of the hearing in a classified setting, behind closed doors. She has maintained that sharing too much about White House security procedures could “arm” any additional potential trespassers with vital information.
“Were I to provide frank disclosures to the committee … in the setting of a public hearing, I would be undermining the Secret Service's protective mission,” she wrote to Issa, Reuters reports. How ironic it would be if Issa’s last shot at public redemption were swallowed up by matters beyond his control.
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