The Secret Service told members of Congress that the majority of the surveillance videos documenting the latest allegations of misconduct, a March 4 crash at the White House, have been erased and that the destruction of the tapes is standard operating procedure.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy showed him two existing surveillance tapes of that night, when two Secret Service agents have been accused of bumping into a White House barricade while driving after a night of drinking, but they offered only severely limited views of the sequence of events that night.
Chaffetz specifically said the videos available weren't definitive on a key accusation — whether the two senior agents accused of driving drunk were intoxicated and driving erratically.
The Utah Republican was even more stunned about the explanation he received from Clancy on why the tapes were so limited. Clancy, in a closed-door session Tuesday, told Chaffetz and other members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it's normal policy for the agency to erase surveillance tapes of the White House grounds after 72 hours.
"I don't think anyone in that room could believe it," Chaffetz told CBS News, who first reported about the destruction of the tapes.
"That's just a stunning revelation that 72 hours after they make a tape, they destroy it? That doesn't make any sense to us.
"If it's regular policy to destroy them after 72 hours, why did they have two of the tapes, and where are the rest of the tapes? And so far the Secret Service has not been able to answer the question," he said.
A Chaffetz spokeswoman confirmed the revelation about the erased tapes to the Washington Examiner and said Chaffetz still has questions as to whether other surveillance from that night exists.
"At this hour we are calling on the Secret Service to provide those tapes so we can see a more full and complete picture," he told CBS News.
The Secret Service issued a statement Wednesday night clarifying that the agency maintains video footage of camera systems at the White House for a period of 72 hours.
“In the event of an operational security incident at the White House Complex, specific video footage is maintained for investigative and protective intelligence purposes,” said spokesman Brian Leary.
In this incident, however, the supervisor on duty the night in question allegedly let the pair of senior agents go home without administering a breathalyzer test, overruling Uniformed Division officers present who argued in favor of a sobriety test.
A Secret Service official familiar with the policy said the tapes are overwritten, not destroyed or erased.
“We’re not looking to create a database of tourists,” he said, noting that the agency has worked with the Department of Homeland Security to create the policy.
The Secret Service has suffered a string of embarrassing security and person misconduct incidents over the last several years. President Obama in January tapped Clancy as the new director charged with cleaning up the agency.
But a March 4 incident involving two senior-level agents has intensified the spotlight the agency is under. The pair of agents are accused of entering the White House in a government-owned vehicle after a night of drinking, hitting a barricade and violating an active suspicious package investigation.
Clancy wasn't told of the incident for five days.