Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said Sunday that Secret Service officials will talk to panel members this week about the gyrocopter that recently landed on the lawn at Capitol Hill.
The Utah Republican said agency officials will “brief” members, Washington parlance for a closed-door meeting, four days after Florida mailman Doug Hughes piloted his ultralight aircraft onto the Hill’s West Lawn, through restricted airspace.
Chaffetz suggested his biggest concern with the agency regarding the incident is that agents had interviewed the 61-year Hughes at his Tampa Bay-area home twice, mostly recently in 2013, about his plans to carry out such an operation, to demand campaign-finance reform.
Chaffetz said he’s giving Secret Service officials some time “so they can sort out their story.”
Chaffetz also said that as a member of Congress he did not receive an alert about the midday incident. And he said that he has serious concerns about the competence of new agency Director Joseph Clancy and his potential to improve the agency, but he is not calling for Clancy’s firing.
The agency’s once-stellar reputation has been tarnished in recent years by a series of embarrassing incidents, including the 2012 scandal in which roughly two dozen Secret Service and military personnel on presidential detail in Cartegena, Colombia, were disciplined for wild partying that included drinking and legal prostitution.
In September 2014, Secret Service police allowed a man with a knife to jump the White House fence and get inside the presidential residence. And on March 4, two agents drove a government-issued car near a bomb investigation at the White House after reportedly drinking earlier in the night at an employee send-off party.
After the gyrocopter incident, a Senate aide said Capitol Police knew of Hughes’ plan shortly before he took off from the vicinity of Gettysburg, Pa.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said the agency interviewed Hughes in Florida in October 2013 after obtaining “information from a concerned citizen about an individual purporting their desire to land a single-manned aircraft on the grounds of the United States Capitol or the White House.”
Leary said the information was shared with Capitol Police and “a complete and thorough investigation was conducted.”
About two hours after the gyrocopter landed, police announced that a bomb squad had cleared it, and nothing hazardous had been found.
House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said authorities were prepared to shoot down Hughes and his single-man craft had they made it much closer to the Capitol. He repeated that statement again Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
He also said such crafts are “very difficult to detect” and that the larger issue is how the situation “exposes the vulnerability” of homeland security.
Hughes has been charged with operating an unregistered aircraft and violating national airspace.
He was allowed to drive home and must wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet until a May 8 court hearing in Washington.