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Washington • Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday after a series of security lapses surfaced and members of Congress – including Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah openly questioned her leadership.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama spoke with Pierson Wednesday afternoon and concluded "a new direction is necessary."
Pierson had been with the agency for 30 years, and led it for more than a year, but came under intense scrutiny after a former Iraqi war veteran armed with a knife scaled the White House fence and made it inside the executive mansion before being subdued by a Secret Service agent.
Only three days prior, agents had allowed a contractor on an elevator with Obama only to find out later that he was a convicted felon and was carrying a gun.
Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security, which is probing the recent incidents, had called for Pierson's resignation earlier Wednesday saying she had lost the confidence of her own agents.
"The agency is in disarray and it's time for her to move on," Chaffetz had said.
Pierson told Bloomberg News that it was "painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach," but that it was the "noble thing to do."
Members of the Oversight Committee grilled Pierson on Tuesday during a two-hour hearing where she accepted responsibility for the lapses and said an internal review was already underway. She did not mention the elevator incident to the committee, news of which broke shortly after the hearing ended.
The latter was the final straw for Chaffetz, who noted two possible lethal mistakes in two days is unacceptable. He says he's been investigating the Secret Service for more than a year and his findings are troubling.
"This is not just a reaction to one or two incidents," Chaffetz said earlier Wednesday. "I'm convinced there is a systemic problem that won't change under [Pierson's] leadership."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, had phoned Pierson earlier Wednesday to say he was concerned about her leadership, according to a Cummings aide.
"He believes that if she can't restore the public's trust in the agency and in particular address the cultural issues so agents feel comfortable raising security concerns to their higher-ups then of course she should not be in that position," the aide said. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for a top-to-bottom review by a blue-ribbon commission of the Secret Service to restore credibility to the agency charged with protecting the president, former presidents, their families and foreign dignitaries.
House Speaker John Boehner backed McCaul's effort for the review.
Earnest, the White House's chief spokesman, had said Tuesday that Obama "absolutely" had confidence in Pierson's leadership. On Wednesday, Earnest said Obama was "deeply appreciative" of Pierson's service but did not offer the same support he had a day earlier.
Chaffetz had a testy exchange with Pierson during Tuesday's hearing, asking her repeatedly if she briefs the president every time there is a security lapse. Pierson said she does and had only done so one time this year.
Earnest said Wednesday that Obama learned of the elevator incident only shortly before The Washington Post reported on it.