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Obama 'Retains Full Confidence' in Secret Service Despite Security Failures


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The Secret Service has been facing tough questions in recent days after it was learned that the man who jumped the White House fence on Sept. 19 got farther into the building than previously believed.White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that despite the concerns, President Obama "retains full confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do their very important work." He would not, however, say whether the president was aware of the full details of the intrusion, other than to note that Obama has "gotten a couple of briefings on this matter."Also on Tuesday, a Secret Service official told ABC News that in a separate incident, first reported by the Washington Examiner, an armed man was allowed in an elevator with the president during a CDC event in Atlanta earlier this month. The official said that the individual was flagged for acting unprofessionally in the elevator, and that the Secret Service later determined that he had been charged with a crime. It was not immediately clear whether the man had been convicted. The official said that Obama was not in any danger, though the incident will likely raise more questions."There's a common interest that exists between all of you, those of us here at the White House that work directly for the president and the officials at the Secret Service to provide accurate information as soon as possible to the American public," Earnest said Tuesday.Also on Tuesday, the fence jumper, Omar Gonzalez, was indicted by a federal grand jury. Gonzalez faces one federal charge of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. He also faces charges for two violations of District of Columbia law -- carrying a dangerous weapon outside of a home or place of business, and unlawful possession of ammunition. He is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obama, Indian Prime Minister Pen Op-Ed Expressing Unity, Hope for 'Better World'


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza / Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi penned a joint op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday, discussing their countries' efforts to "help shape international security and peace for years to come."In the piece, the two leaders point to the shared past of the two nations as an indicator of what positivity can be brought by their continued partnership. Calling the modern partnership "robust, reliable and enduring," the two noted an ongoing expansion to that relationship.With the growth of a new government in India, Obama and Modi call for "a new agenda, one that realizes concrete benefits for our citizens." India, the op-ed says, continues to work to improve the "quality, reliability and availability of basic services, especially for the poorest of citizens," a goal that the U.S. "stands ready to assist" with.Perhaps even more important, the two leaders note a relationship as global partners, and the hopes that together, their nations can combat "the toughest of challenges," highlighting the ongoing Ebola outbreak, researching cures for other diseases and the empowerment of women and improvement of food security in Afghanistan and Africa."The promise of a better tomorrow is not solely for Indians and Americans," Obama and Modi write. "It also beckons us to move forward together for a better world."Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

US Energy Dept. to Keep NM Nuclear Waste Facility Closed Through 2015


Photo by Joe Raedle(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Energy Department announced on Tuesday that it would keep the New Mexico nuclear waste facility closed through 2015, following an underground fire and radiation leak earlier this year.According to a press release from the DOE, operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., were suspended following the fire and leak in February. The facility is the only one in the U.S. for the dumping of nuclear waste. "Safety is our top priority," said Mark Whitney, the acting assistant secretary for the DOE's Office of Environmental Management. Whitney announced the WIPP Recovery Plan, which outlines the steps that will be taken before operations can resume."Some of the top nuclear and recovery experts from DOE and the nuclear industry helped develo this plan and I'm confident we will be able to safely and compliantly resume operations in the first quarter of 2016," he said.The facility is built 2,000 feet below the desert in salt mines. While it had only accepted low-level nuclear waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, officials had hoped to upgrade its permits to accept high-level nuclear waste.Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obama, Kerry Praise Signing of Bilateral Security Agreement


State Department photo/ Public Domain / Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday praised the long-awaited signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan past the end of 2014.In a statement, the president called the signing "a historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership," noting the opportunity to "advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan."Obama had hoped an agreement would be signed since last year. The then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai declined to sign the agreement, and for months, the Obama administration was hopeful that following the recent Afghan presidential election -- and the ensuing audit of votes -- the new leader would agree to the deal.The agreement gives U.S. forces and forces from partner countries the legal protection necessary to carry out the NATO Resolute Support mission after the International Security and Assistance Force mission ends at the end of the year.Kerry echoed the praise offered by President Obama, calling the signing of the BSA "a milestone moment" that "sends a long-awaited and unequivocal message that the United States and Afghanistan are determined not just to sustain, but to build on more than a decade of progress.""The gains of the past decade have been won with blood and treasure," Kerry said. "They must not be lost, and we all have a stake in ensuring they're a foundation upon which to build."Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Six Secret Service Safeguards Breached by White House Intruder


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- There were at least six safeguards that failed when a man jumped the fence and got deeper into the White House than anyone before.Secret Service Director Julia Pierson appeared Tuesday before a House Committee over the biggest breach in security since she took over the post in March last year.Though the agency's spokesperson initially said that former veteran Omar Gonzalez was apprehended just inside the North Portico doors during the Sept. 19 incident, that has now been proven false.Further details first reported by The Washington Post make it clear that there were a half dozen steps that were not taken by the Secret Service during the close call, just minutes after the Obamas had left the building."How on earth did it happen?" House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa said in his opening statements at Pierson's hearing Tuesday morning.Here's a step-by-step look at what happened:The Fence and Plainclothes OfficersThe first breach that occurred came when a team of plainclothes Secret Service agents circulating the perimeter of the White House fence did not spot Gonzalez as he climbed over. That team is in place as an early warning intended to alert the rest of the Secret Service team.Crash Boxes and Front DoorWhen any officer spots an intruder -- which should have been the plainclothes team -- agents should hit the red button in the "crash boxes" posted throughout the White House and grounds. That alarm would lock the door to the White House, but since it never went off, the doors were left unlocked.Booth AgentIf the plainsclothes agents failed to spot someone climbing the fence, there is an officer stationed in a guard booth on the North Lawn.Attack DogIf that officer sees the intruder, but realizes that they will not be able to apprehend them before they reach the White House, the officer is supposed to send an attack dog to stop the intruder.According to The Washington Post, people familiar with the incident said that the officer may not have felt that they could release the attack dog because there were other Secret Service officers pursuing Gonzalez by foot, and the officer may have feared that the dog would attack the Secret Service agents rather than the intruder.SWAT Team and Extra GuardThe guard in the North Lawn booth is also trained to send a SWAT team and a guard to the front door to confront the intruder. Neither of these were sent.Guard at the Front DeskThe final breach came when Gonzalez ran past the guard inside the North Portico door, through the entrance hallway, down a hall past the staircase that would lead him directly to the first family's private residence and into the East Room. It was only there, in the room used for formal state dinners and national security announcements, where Gonzalez was finally taken and physically tackled by a Secret Service agent."The fact is the system broke down on September 19," Issa said.Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Secret Service Director: White House Intrusion 'Unacceptable'


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Facing an outraged Congressional committee Tuesday, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson called the White House intrusion that took place on Sept. 19 “unacceptable.”“Protecting the White House complex is a challenge in any environment,” she said. “We are never satisfied by the status quo and we are constantly reviewing our security protocols.”In a startling security lapse, 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez, armed with a 3-and-a-half-inch serrated knife, scaled the north fence at the White House, stormed through the unlocked North Portico door and barrelled past an agent into the East Room just minutes after the first family had departed the White House.House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa called lawmakers back to Capitol Hill to convene the rare recess hearing, saying the failure “has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service” to protect the president.“Common sense tells us that there were a series of security failures, not an instance of praiseworthy restraint. Inexplicably, Omar Gonzalez breached at least five rings of security on September 19th,” Issa, R-Calif., said. “The White House is supposed to be one of America’s most secure facilities, and in fact, one of the world’s most secure facilities. So how on earth did it happen?”Pierson -- brought in just 18 months ago to clean up the scandal-plagued agency -- now faces a scandal of her own.She said 16 people have been apprehended for scaling the fence over the past five years, including six this year.“Our goal today is also clear: to determine how this happened and make sure it does not happen again,” said Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “I hate to even imagine what could have happened if Gonzalez had been carrying a gun instead of a knife when he burst inside the White House. That possibility is extremely unsettling.”A “crash box” alarm that should have alerted agents of an intruder had been muted at the behest of the chief usher’s office, the Washington Post reported Monday, and the agent guarding the door had no time to lock it before Gonzalez entered.While the incident was the primary focus of the hearing, lawmakers also demanded answers about an incident the next day when an unauthorized vehicle was cleared into the White House compound, as well as a 2011 incident when a man fired several rounds at the White House while some of the president’s family was inside.Pierson reportedly requested that much of the hearing take place behind closed doors, calling a public discussion of Secret Service practices “beyond reckless.” Lawmakers claimed the public deserves to know what happened, but agreed to hold a classified session immediately following Tuesday’s open hearing.Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Clay Aiken Sings Different Tune in Bid for Congress


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- More than a decade after Clay Aiken made his singing debut on the stage of American Idol, he is taking to the political stage, competing for a very different sort of title: U.S. Congressman.Running as a Democrat in North Carolina’s 2nd District, Aiken is making the case to voters that his voice is good for more than just singing.“What people don't recognize is that in the months and weeks following American Idol, I worked to set up an organization for kids with disabilities, and for the last 11 years I've helped grow that organization from one that had programs in North Carolina to one that has programs in states across the country,” Aiken told ABC News.In an effort to get voters to focus on him as a candidate rather than a singer, Aiken has put a stop on the singing -- at least for now -- as he travels across in his native North Carolina, where he faces an uphill battle as a Democrat running in a conservative district.“I recognize that this box that people have me in is that of a singer,” Aiken said. “There's a whole bunch more to me than just being a singer, and we've done a great job of explaining that to folks. By singing I put myself back in the box, and that's not necessarily what we're trying to do here.”During an appearance on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert tried to get Aiken to sing the national anthem with him, but he refused. “There's a very big difference [between] doing it in a mocking way and doing it seriously,” Aiken explained.The Colbert Report aside, Aiken has made a few exceptions to his ban on campaign trail singing.“There've been one or two times on the campaign trail, where it was organic -- there was a band, and somebody else was singing -- and I stepped up and sang just a little bit,” Aiken said.Aiken said he’s running for Congress to fill what he sees as a “vacuum” of needed leadership in Washington. And in his home district, Aiken believes there is a sentiment of anger toward Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, who was elected in 2010.“My mom used to joke that I was gonna go…to Hollywood, and 'go Hollywood.' And I clearly did not, I stayed about a year and a half and came home, and I'm the same person I was before,” Aiken said.And though Aiken said he didn’t “go Hollywood,” he believes Ellmers has gone Washington.Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Seven Questions for Secret Service Director Julia Pierson After WH Intrusion


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On the heels of the Washington Post’s revelation that the armed man who scaled the White House fence earlier this month not only entered the executive mansion but bolted past a guard and into the East Room, the Secret Service has come under fire once again.According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, President Obama was “obviously concerned” about the Sept. 19 perimeter breach -- and in a rare moment of accord, the Republican-controlled House share his concern.Tuesday, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will grill Secret Service Director Julia Pierson about the agency’s repeated lapses. Here's seven questions lawmakers are likely to ask:1. Why the lack of transparency?Monday’s revelations don’t exactly square with the agency’s original explanation, which seemed to imply that the 42-year-old fence jumper, Omar Gonzalez, had been apprehended just inside the entrance.The day after the incident, the Secret Service released a statement saying simply, “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.”2. Didn’t Gonzalez’s erratic history raise a red flag?Secret Service investigators interviewed Gonzalez, an Iraq vet, at least twice before he stormed into the White House on Sept. 19.Two months before the incident, authorities in Virginia discovered a sawed-off shotgun and a map marking the White House stashed in Gonzalez’s car. They confiscated the weapons but concluded he wasn’t a threat to the president. And about a month later, officers spotted Gonzales wandering along the south fence with a hatchet in his waistband. They determined they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him.Gonzalez’s motives aren’t clear: Though he had armed himself with 3 ½ inch knife, he claims his only intent was to warn the president that the “atmosphere was collapsing.” Still, the fact that a man repeatedly flagged by Secret Service managed to make it so far into what was once considered most secure residence in the nation is troubling.3. Why didn’t agents fire?The Secret Service Uniformed Division supposedly maintains “five rings” of protection to create a secure perimeter around the executive mansion. But it was a counterassault agent patrolling the interior -- an agent who was never supposed to come face-to-face with a would-be fence jumper -- who eventually subdued Gonzalez.At the North Gate, a plainclothes surveillance team posted outside the gate failed to notice Gonzalez clambering over the eight-foot fence.Then, in quick succession, a guard booth officer, SWAT team, and K-9 unit all failed to respond.They allowed Gonzales to dart into the White House, which had been vacated by the first family just minutes before.4. Why didn’t they release the dogs?The K-9 unit, a team of Belgian Malinois dogs trained to attack intruders, was also not deployed.Sources say officers were afraid the dogs would attack the officers pursuing Gonzalez instead of the intruder himself.5. Why wasn’t the door secured?Gonzales didn’t have to force the front door or pick the lock. It wasn't locked.Secret Service agents generally wait for notice of an intruder to lock the front door -- but the officer guarding the entrance on Sept. 19 wasn’t aware of a fence jumper until he was almost upon her.Gonzales dashed past her and ran past the entrance to the first family’s private quarters and into the ceremonial East Room on the first floor.6. Why is the Secret Service taking direction from hospitality staff?According to the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, someone had apparently muted a “crash box” alarm designed to alert officers of intruders -- at the behest of the usher’s office.Apparently, the alarm frequently went off without provocation, disturbing the staff. Even so, some lawmakers are chiding the agency for disabling the crash box “to appease superficial concerns of White House ushers.”7. How did the President actually react?In public, President Obama appeared calm, saying that the Secret Service “does a great job." But previous security breaches have reportedly left the president and first lady fuming.Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Ted Cruz Says He's Made No Decision About 2016


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Texas Senator Ted Cruz says that he had not made a decision to seek the 2016 GOP presidential nomination despite an article that says otherwise.A person identified as a "Cruz adviser" told the National Journal that "At this point it's 90/10 he's in. And honestly, 90 is lowballing it."The same article said the freshman senator would campaign for president on a strong foreign policy platform.However, Cruz took to Facebook Monday to post the following denial:"Contrary to media reports this morning, Heidi and I have not made any decisions about political plans past the mid-term elections. Clearly we have an overzealous supporter out there making freelance comments, but to be clear, no decision has been made. Whoever this 'anonymous advisor' was, he or she had no authority to speak, and doesn't know what they're talking about."Cruz is just one of numerous Republicans who have been mentioned as possible contenders for the 2016 Republican nomination. Others include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.Follow @ABCNewsRadio!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Kerry Congratulates New Afghan President, 'Chief Executive Officer'


Credit: US Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry praised the leaders of Afghanistan after new president Ashraf Ghani and his former election opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, took their positions on Monday.Ghani was sworn in as president and Abdullah took on a role Kerry called "chief executive officer." Kerry called both men "patriots committed to the success of their country."Kerry congratulated the country on taking "a moment of challenge and [turning] it into a moment of real opportunity."While Kerry didn't specifically mention it, a key matter under the new government will be the signing of a bilateral security agreement, allowing U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan."Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of so many from around the world, in addition to the strides it has made in consolidating its democratic system, Afghanistan has made unprecedented gains in the life expectancy, health and education of its people -- particularly women and girls," Kerry noted.Calling the swearing-in "a beginning, not an ending," Kerry spoke glowingly of the possibility of a "sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan."Follow @ABCNewsRadio !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
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