President Barack Obama “concluded new leadership of that agency was required”, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Throughout the day, high-ranking politicians from both parties had urged her to step down after her poorly received testimony to Congress a day earlier — and revelation of another security problem: Obama had shared an elevator in Atlanta last month with an armed guard who was not authorised to be around him.
“Today Julia Pierson, the director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it,” Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement.
He announced that Joseph Clancy, retired head of the agency’s Presidential Protective Division, would come out of retirement to lead the Secret Service temporarily.
Johnson also outlined an independent inquiry into the agency’s operations.
Trust was shaken by a series of failures in the agency’s job of protecting the president, including a breach on September 19, when a knife-carrying man climbed over the White House fence on Pennsylvania Avenue and made it deep into the executive mansion before being stopped.
After a congressional hearing on Tuesday into that breach and an earlier one, reports emerged of yet another.
Earlier in September, Obama had shared an elevator in Atlanta with a private guard who was not authorised to be around him with a gun. That was the first known Secret Service failure to unfold in the presence of the president. The first family was not at the White House when the recent intruder entered.
The White House learned about the Atlanta episode when politicians and the public did — when the Washington Examiner and The Washington Post reported it, Earnest said.
Obama had not been told about it previously, he said, despite Pierson’s statement to the committee that she briefs the president “100% of the time” about breaches to his personal security and those at the White House. She said the only time she briefed him this year was after the September 19 White House incident.
Support for Pierson unravelled quickly after her defensive testimony on Tuesday, which left key questions unanswered.
Chuck Schumer, the No 3 Democrat in the Senate, and senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, were both to issue public calls for her resignation yesterday afternoon.
Jason Chaffetz, a senior Republican on the House oversight and government reform committee, said Pierson should either resign or Obama should fire her.
“Unfortunately, the Secret Service director’s appearance before the oversight and government reform committee has left us with more questions than answers,” said House speaker John Boehner, a Republican.
Although he stopped short of calling for Pierson’s resignation in a statement earlier in the day, he backed a call for an independent investigation, and said: “The president must make a swift determination on whether the agency is being well-served by its current leadership.”
Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, yesterday said Pierson was no longer the best person to lead the Secret Service.
“There has to be accountability when that is not the case,” added House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who also backed calls for an independent investigation.