Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, is already scheduled to testify before Congress on Tuesday about the two White House security breaches this month, and now she’ll also have to discuss an incident that’s far scarier than someone making it through an unlocked door. Over the weekend, the Washington Post revealed that back in 2011, a shooter hit the White House seven times while Sasha Obama and her grandmother, Marian Robinson, were inside. Secret Service agents on the scene were ordered to stand down, and it took the agency four days to realize the building had been hit.
The shooting on the night of November 11, 2011, and the arrest of 21-year-old Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, were reported at the time, but the extent of the Secret Service’s inept response, and the risk to the first daughters, were not known until now.
With the president and First Lady out of town and Malia Obama due home at any minute, Ortega-Hernandez parked his car on Constitution Avenue, fired at the White House, and sped off. Agents on the scene took defensive positions, and one, Secret Service Officer Carrie Johnson, thought she saw debris fall from the building and prepared to open an emergency gun box.
Then their supervisor said over the radio: “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down.” He said it was just a construction vehicle backfiring, and even when the Secret Service confirmed hours later that there was a shooting, they suggested it was a gang fight, and the White House was never hit.
Ortega-Hernandez got into a car accident several blocks away and abandoned his semiautomatic rifle in his vehicle as he fled on foot. The Secret Service looked into the incident, but concluded that it had nothing to do with the White House and turned it over U.S. Park Police. Officer Johnson said she didn’t challenge the official account “for fear of being criticized.”
However, the next day the agency began to piece together what happened after a housekeeper spotted a chunk of concrete and a broken window (the bulletproof glass underneath was intact). Another bullet was found lodged in a wooden window frame.
Once officers realized that Ortega-Hernandez had attempted to assassinate the president, a national manhunt ensued, and he was captured after a desk clerk spotted him at a hotel in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Naturally, the Obamas were furious when they found out about the agency’s bungled response, particularly because they weren’t informed immediately. Michelle Obama’s voice was so “sharp and raised” during a meeting with Mark Sullivan, the director of the Secret Service at the time, that “she could be heard through a closed door,” according to the Post. Despite what Key & Peele would have you believe, the president was quite capable of expressing his anger when he returned from Australia five days later. “When the president came back . . . then the s— really hit the fan,” said a former aide.
Nevertheless, the Obamas are standing by the team sworn to protect them — for now, at least. On Sunday, Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told CNN the incident should be put “in perspective.”
“The men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line for the president of the United States, his family, and folks working in the White House every single day, 24 hours a day. Their task is incredible, and the burden that they bear is incredible,” he said. “I know the Secret Service is on top of this and they will take every necessary step to correct any problems.”