Rep. Chaffetz 'outraged' over reports of Secret Service security lapses

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SALT LAKE CITY — Hours after a House committee grilled the Secret Service director about a major security lapse at the White House on Sept. 19, whistleblowers revealed Tuesday that an armed security contractor with prior convictions for assault and battery was allowed on an elevator with President Obama during his visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Sept. 16.

"You have a convicted felon within an arm's reach of the president, and they never did a background check," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told The Washington Post on Tuesday evening.

"Words aren't strong enough for the outrage I feel for the safety of the President and his family."

Obama was at the CDC to discuss the nation's response to the Ebola virus crisis. The security contractor was allowed to ride in an elevator with the president but was questioned by government agents after he refused to comply with their request to stop filming Obama with his cellphone.

Agents then questioned the guard and checked a database, which revealed his criminal history, The Washington Post reported.

"His life was in danger. This country would be a different world today if he had pulled out his gun," Chaffetz is quoted by The Washington Post.

The security breach was revealed the same day Secret Service director Julia Pierson appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Chaffetz, a committee member and chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, called into question the agency's leadership, training and protocols.

Chaffetz said the leadership of the Secret Service sends mixed messages to agents. After Omar Gonzalez jumped the White House fence, penetrating five rings of security before he was apprehended in the executive mansion, the Secret Service issued a statement honoring the agents for their "tremendous restraint," he said.

"Tremendous restraint is not what we’re looking for. Tremendous restraint is not the goal and the objective. It sends a very mixed message. The message should be overwhelming force," Chaffetz said during the House hearing.

While Tuesday's hearing was before a House committee, Utah's senators each released statements expressing their concerns about the lapses.

"The recent security breach ‎at the White House was simply unacceptable. I'm following the situation closely, and as a member of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Secret Service, I look forward to a thorough review of the lapses that led to this incident to ensure it does not happen again," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a statement: "The protection of the president is obviously a serious issue, and I fully support the House’s effort to conduct proper oversight and get to the bottom of it.”

Oversight committee members also questioned Pierson on why it took several days for the Secret Service to discover that seven bullets had struck the residence in November 2011. Obama's younger daughter Sasha and Marian Robinson, first lady Michelle Obama's mother, were home at the time.

Chaffetz said there were multiple reports that someone had taken shots at the White House, five from Secret Service agents who had reported the sounds of shots fired; someone who tweeted that they saw someone shoot at the residence; and similar reports from people in shuttle vans.

"Blocks away, moments later, somebody crashes a vehicle, an assault rifle is in there, and the Secret Service is there on the scene, and no one ties those two things together. I don’t understand this," Chaffetz said.

The alleged shooter, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 21, of Idaho Falls, was arrested by police in Pennsylvania five days later, Chaffetz said.

"Now he’s serving some 25 years in jail, but he could have done a lot more damage," he said.

Chaffetz said in an age of dirty bombs and improvised explosive devices, it is impossible to know what an intruder might hide under their clothing.

If someone penetrates security, they need to know that one of the outcomes they could face is lethal force.

"Don’t let somebody get close to the president. Don’t let somebody get close to his family. Don’t let them get in the White House ever. If (Secret Service agents) have to take action that is lethal, I will have their back," Chaffetz said.


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Marjorie Cortez


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