By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy pledged on Thursday to get tough on his agency for keeping quiet about officers allegedly driving drunk on White House grounds, but he also knocked down reports that the incident involved a collision or that agents purposely deleted surveillance video of it.
"If it is determined that any one of our employees concealed information about this alleged incident, they will be held accountable," he said in testimony before a Senate subcommittee. "Our mission is too important for this to happen. It undermines my leadership, and I won't stand for it."
The incident was the latest in a string of security lapses and embarrassing scandals for his agency, entrusted with protecting the president and other officials, as well as fighting financial crime. President Barack Obama chose Clancy, who took office last month, to clean up the security service's problems.
On March 4, two Secret Service officers drove past barricades at the White House and into an area locked down because of a suspicious package. Clancy only learned of the incident five days later, through an anonymous email, he said, and asked the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to investigate.
On Tuesday, a House of Representatives subcommittee grilled him for not firing agents suspected of being involved and blasted him for not conducting his own investigation.
But on Thursday Clancy defended the inspector general investigation and promised hard discipline after its conclusion, citing statute for why he cannot terminate employees over unproven allegations.
Many of the incident's details are hazy, and rumors emerged that the agents crashed their car. No one tested their blood alcohol levels, either.
Clancy said surveillance footage shows the vehicle enter the grounds slowly and push aside a plastic barrel. There was no damage to the car, he added.
"While I am extremely concerned about the allegations of misconduct and the potential for alcohol involvement, I must reserve judgment," he said.
Two videos of the incident exist, but the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz, has said he learned other recordings may have been deleted.
Clancy said the Secret Service automatically erases surveillance recordings every 72 hours, but some footage of the night remains because video related to the bomb scare was saved. The agency is working with the equipment maker and technology experts to see if other recordings can be recovered.