Jul 13, 2023

Secret Service ends White House cocaine probe without a suspect

Posted Jul 13, 2023 6:00 AM
U.S. Secret Service agents found the white powder during a routine White House sweep on July 2- courtesy photo
U.S. Secret Service agents found the white powder during a routine White House sweep on July 2- courtesy photo

WASHINGTON (AP) — No fingerprints or DNA turned up on the baggie of cocaine found in a lobby at the White House last week despite a sophisticated FBI crime lab analysis, and surveillance footage of the area didn’t identify a suspect, according to a summary of the Secret Service investigation obtained by The Associated Press. There are no leads on who brought the drugs into the building.

The full statement from the Secret Service on the investigation says:

 "On the evening of July 2, officers from the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division found an unknown substance inside a vestibule leading to the lobby area of the West Executive Avenue entrance to the White House."

"The substance was located inside a receptacle used to temporarily store electronic and personal devices prior to entering the West Wing."

"Following the discovery, safety closures were implemented around the White House. This response was designed to ensure that the found substance was not a chemical or radiological material that threatened the security of the White House. As such, the substance was field tested and preliminarily determined to not be a hazardous compound."

"Testing conducted by the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department indicated that the found powder tested preliminarily positive for the presence of cocaine. The substance and packaging were treated as evidence and sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, which analyzed the item for any biothreats. Tests conducted at this facility came back negative and gave formal confirmation that the substance was not biological in nature."

"The substance and packaging underwent further forensic testing. The substance was analyzed for its chemical composition. The packaging was subjected to advanced fingerprint and DNA analysis. Both of these analyses were conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's crime laboratory given their expertise in this area and independence from the investigation."

"While awaiting the FBl's results, the Secret Service investigation into how this item entered the White House continued. The investigation included a methodical review of security systems and protocols. This review included a backwards examination that spanned several days prior to the discovery of the substance and developed an index of several hundred individuals who may have accessed the area where the substance was found. The focal point of these actions developed a pool of known persons for comparison of forensic evidence gleaned from the FBI’s analysis of the substance's packaging. "

"On July 12, the Secret Service received the FBI’s laboratory results, which did not develop latent fingerprints and insufficient DNA was present for investigative comparisons.  Therefore, the Secret Service is not able to compare evidence against the known pool of individuals. The FBl's evaluation of the substance also confirmed that it was cocaine." 

"There was no surveillance video footage found that provided investigative leads or any other means for investigators to identify who may have deposited the found substance in this area. Without physical evidence, the investigation will not be able to single out a person of interest from the hundreds of individuals who passed through the vestibule where the cocaine was discovered. At this time, the Secret Service's investigation is closed due to a lack of physical evidence"

"The U.S. Secret Service takes its mission to protect U.S. leaders, facilities, and events seriously and we are constantly adapting to meet the needs of the current and future security environment."

The presence of cocaine at the White House prompted a flurry of criticism and questions from Republicans, who requested a briefing Thursday on the probe. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden believed it was “incredibly important” for the Secret Service to get to the bottom of how the drugs ended up in the White House.

Biden wasn’t there at the time of the discovery. He was at Camp David with members of his family for the holiday weekend.

The complex was briefly evacuated as a precaution when the white powder was found. The fire department was called in to test the substance on the spot to determine whether it was hazardous, and the initial test came back negative for a biohazard but positive for cocaine.

The Secret Service is responsible for securing the White House and is leading the investigation. The bag was sent for a secondary, more sensitive lab analysis. Homeland Security’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center analyzed the item for any biothreats. Tests conducted at the facility came back negative and gave formal confirmation that the substance was not a biological threat.

The lobby is also open to staff-led tours of the West Wing, which are scheduled for nonworking hours on the weekends and evenings. Those tours are invitation-only and led by White House staff for friends, family and other guests. Most staffers who work in the complex can request an evening or weekend tour slot, but there is often a long wait list. There were tours on the day, a Sunday, the drugs were found, as well as on the two preceding days.

The cocaine and packaging underwent further forensics testing, including advanced fingerprint and DNA work at the FBI's crime laboratory, according to the summary. The FBI also did chemical testing.

Meanwhile, Secret Service investigators put together a list of several hundred individuals who may have accessed the area where the drugs were found. Anyone who comes through the White House must give identifying information and pass through security before entering.

But the lab results didn't turn up latent fingerprints or DNA, so agents can't compare anything to the possible suspect pool. White House staff are fingerprinted; participants in tour groups are not.

Video of the West Executive street lobby entrance did not identify the person or provide any solid investigative leads, the Secret Service said.