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Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Is Resigning

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, who has been skewered by critics over the Sept. 19 White House security breach, is resigning, sources told ABC News Wednesday.

Pierson’s resignation comes in the wake of an incident in which Omar Gonzalez, a knife-wielding Iraq War vet, allegedly managed to slip over the fence, past several layers of security, and into the White House’s East Room, where he was subdued by an off-duty agent.

A second scandal that came to light this wek involved the revelation that an armed man with a criminal record had been allowed to ride in an elevator with the president earlier this month at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention event in Atlanta. According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, the administration was unaware of that incident until shortly before it was reported on Tuesday.

Pierson made the decision to resign on Wednesday because she felt it was in the best interest of the agency, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who noted that "the president agreed with that assessment." Obama spoke with Pierson on Wednesday afternoon, thanking her for her service.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson named Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service as the interim Acting Director of the Secret Service.

Lawmakers at a congressional hearing Tuesday demanded to know how such a breach of one of the most secure buildings in the world could have taken place.

"It will never happen again,” Pierson assured lawmakers at the hearing.

Congress also questioned her about a 2011 incident in which agents failed to realize the White House had been sprayed by bullets until a housekeeper pointed out a pane of broken glass.

“You’re not taking your job seriously,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said. “I have very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership.”

At least one lawmaker had called for Pierson’s resignation.

“I think this lady has to go,” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the most senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday. “I’m convinced that she is not the person to lead that agency.”

Administration officials had hoped Pierson, named director on March 26, 2013, could overhaul the scandal-plagued agency, which suffers from cultural problems as well as operational ones.

Not long after Pierson assumed her post, the Secret Service, still under fire from the Cartagena, Colombia, prostitution scandal the year before, was lambasted anew when it was discovered that an agent had left a bullet in a Washington hotel room after spending the evening with a woman in May 2013.

Though a Homeland Security report released the following December concluded agency leadership hadn’t “fostered an environment that tolerates inappropriate behavior,” concern that agent misconduct might endanger the first family lingered.

Then in March 2014, three counterassault agents responsible for protecting Obama in Amsterdam were sent home after getting drunk less than 10 hours before they were expected to report for duty.

The agency has also dealt with a spate of White House fence-jumpers -- 17 in the past five years, according to Pierson -- though everyone but Gonzalez was quickly subdued on the lawn.

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White House Fence Jumper Enters Not Guilty Plea

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Omar Gonzalez, the man accused of jumping a perimeter fence and running through the first floor of the White House armed with a knife, appeared in federal court Wednesday as his lawyer entered a plea of “not guilty” to the charges against him.

Gonzalez, wearing an orange jumpsuit, was led into the courtroom with his hands behind his back and said nothing during the hearing. He listened intently and at one point whispered with his lawyer, public defender David Bos.

Wednesday marks the first time the public has seen Gonzalez since the details of his Sept. 19 excursion into the White House were revealed, and the appearance comes the same day Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned.

After his arrest, Gonzalez was charged with unlawfully entering a restricted building while carrying a dangerous weapon. On Monday, a federal grand jury indicted him for that federal offense as well as violations of DC law: carrying a dangerous weapon outside a home or place of business, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

On Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said that the accused’s next appearance would be Oct. 21 at 10:30. He will be held without bond.

The issue of Gonzalez’ competence came up when the judge announced she had received a report from pre-trial services. She suggested she was poised to order a forensic screening.

In court, Bos objected, saying there was “no basis” for the screening at this time. Bos pointed out that neither he nor the government had requested a competency evaluation. The judge gave Bos until Thursday to file a motion on the matter.

Outside of court, in the hallway, Bos said that if a screening is done, he would insist it be done by one of his experts.

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Mitt Romney and 2016: Could It Be True?

Robert Giroux/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A presidential defeat isn’t an easy thing to bounce back from. And Mitt Romney did it twice. So it was understandable that after he lost the presidential race in 2012, he was adamant about closing the door to the possibility of a third campaign.

But recently, speculation is whirling that Romney may not be so adamant anymore.

When asked if he was running in a New York Times interview published earlier this week, Romney said: “I have nothing to add to the story. We’ve got a lot of people looking at the race. We’ll see what happens.”

That response, which set off the firestorm of speculation about a possible candidacy, is vastly different from the one he issued just nine months ago: “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no,” he told The New York Times last January at the premiere of Mitt, the documentary about his 2012 candidacy. “People are always gracious and say, ‘Oh, you should run again.’ I’m not running again.”

The discrepancy between the two responses has been fueled by Romney's recent presence on the political scene. As midterm campaigns enter the home stretch, his star power seems akin to Hillary Clinton’s for the Democrats. He has stumped for candidates on the campaign trail and sent personal emails requesting fundraising for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Daniel Scarpinato, the group’s national press secretary, previously told ABC News that Romney has an ability to rake in a higher level of contributions for the Republican Party because “a lot of Americans want to see him as president.”

Policy-wise, he has been more vocal about publicizing his opposition to the Obama administration, lambasting the president’s foreign policy on Fox News and penning an op-ed opposing cuts to the military in the Washington Post.

All of this seems like groundwork for a presidential run. But several people, including his former running mate Paul Ryan, have affirmed that Romney has no interest in running again.

In an interview Tuesday with the Huffington Post Live, Ryan said that, if Romney has reiterated multiple times he isn’t running, then he isn’t running. (Ryan did note however, that if Romney were to run, he would not run against him.)

So in short, no one has any idea if Romney is running. If his most recent response is true, he doesn't know either. But the fact that he didn't rule out running means that we don't have to rule him out.

And if he does run, his experience and star power could make him a frontrunner. As he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace in 2013 about his 2012 campaign: “I did better this time than I did the time before.”

Perhaps the third time could be the charm.

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Senators Want Pentagon Probe of Sex Abuse Intimidation Claims

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two senators are asking the Pentagon to investigate claims by female soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, that senior commanders discouraged them from reporting additional sexual assaults.

The allegations emerged during the trial of a drill sergeant at the base who was convicted of sexually assaulting eight female trainees under his command.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have written Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to urge that the “troubling allegations” be investigated.

“We are deeply disturbed by media reports of the testimony of a victim and witness during this court martial that they and those around them were discouraged from reporting sexual assaults by their leadership,” they wrote in a letter sent to Hagel on Tuesday.

They cited media reports of the testimony of two female witnesses at the court martial of Staff Sgt. Angel M. Sanchez for sexually assaulting and abusing female solders he was training at Fort Leonard Wood.

Last week, a military judge found Sanchez guilty and recommended a 20-year prison sentence. The sentence must be approved by the post’s commander.

One of the witnesses alleged that a lieutenant colonel at the base “told her company of trainees several months ago not to report allegations of sexual assault.” That witness says she now has “issues of trusting those who are in charge of me.”

Another female witness testified that her unit’s command sergeant major told her company of military policemen several months ago that “if any more sexual assault cases come forward” the whole company of soldiers would not graduate from advanced individual training.

McCaskill and Gillibrand urged Hagel to begin an investigation saying, “If none has been opened, we request that you open one immediately and keep us informed of the progress of that investigation. We know that you share our desire to eliminate this scourge from the military.”

“The Department has received the letter from Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill, and will respond promptly and directly to them,” said Pentagon spokesman Maj. James Brindle. “We appreciate their concerns regarding this issue.”

An Army spokeswoman said that the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command had previously conducted an investigation that included a review of issues such as command climate in the unit, particularly as it related to the training, procedures and enforcement of sexual assault prevention program.

“The investigation also examined whether unit command statements to trainees were proper and allegations reported as required. The Headquarters Department of the Army is now in receipt of that investigation and is reviewing it,” the spokesman said.

Both McCaskill and Gillibrand have been at the forefront of reforming procedures for how the military tackles sexual assault in the military. They have been at odds particularly over Gillibrand’s legislation that would have taken military commanders out of the chain of command in deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault in their units.

In the end, the Senate overwhelmingly passed McCaskill’s legislation that among other things said the “good soldier” defense should not be a factor for commanders in determining if a case should proceed to prosecution.

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Pizza Guy Is Shaking Up North Carolina Senate Race

Megan Morr/For the Washington Post/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- By day, Sean Haugh delivers pizzas and resells old books on Amazon. But moonlighting as North Carolina’s Libertarian Senate candidate, he could serve up the state’s hotly contested Senate seat to Democrats in November.

“I’m very much a factor in the race,” Haugh told ABC News.

If the contest between Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis remains narrowly divided in the final weeks of the race, political strategists believe Haugh could siphon votes away from Tillis and help hand the incumbent Democrat a victory. Democrats believe North Carolina is increasingly becoming their best firewall to stop Republicans from picking up the six seats needed to win control of the Senate.

“If it’s really close -- people might say even at 2 percent -- Haugh would be playing a role in the outcome,” said North Carolina State University political scientist Andrew Taylor.

Haugh, 53, is no stranger to state politics. He ran for Senate as a Libertarian in 2002, and has also worked with the state’s Libertarian Party in various capacities. He said he entered the race in February as an “act of conscience.”

“There wasn’t any Libertarian stepping up,” he said.

His platform, laid out in a series of low-fi YouTube videos filmed at the home bar in his campaign manager’s basement, calls for “peace and fiscal security,” and an alternative to candidates “owned by outside corporate interests.”

In 2002, Haugh received 34,000 votes, roughly 1.5 percent of the electorate. Even with little more than $7,000 in contributions and his YouTube channel, he is optimistic about his chances this year.

“We have two candidates out there that are really unacceptable,” Haugh said. “People are repulsed by the negativity and look for an alternative.”

Republicans see a path to reclaiming the Senate majority through Sen. Kay Hagan’s seat in the increasingly conservative state. While vulnerable, the freshman Democrat has proven surprisingly resilient.

“Hagan has run a perfect race with no mistakes,” said Larry Shaheen, a North Carolina Republican strategist.

Hagan led Tillis 46 percent to 43 percent in a recent CNN poll. Haugh captured 7 percent of likely voters in the same survey -- votes both major party candidates could sorely miss on Election Day should the race remain close.

Republicans have enlisted the likes of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to boost Tillis on the campaign trail. Sen. Rand Paul appeared with Tillis in Raleigh Wednesday.

Paul endorsed tea party candidate Greg Brannon in the Republican primary, but has lent his Libertarian credentials to Tillis' efforts. Besides his appearance Wednesday, the Kentucky Republican has filmed ads with the Chamber of Commerce that will air in the state in support of Tillis.

“Republicans are worried,” Haugh said of his candidacy. “They’ve got a lot of internal problems with the party.”

Neither campaign responded to requests from ABC News for comment on Haugh’s campaign.

Haugh’s calls for ending American military intervention and legalizing marijuana make him a “different kind of Libertarian” than those who could siphon away conservative voters from Republicans in Senate races, said Taylor.

“It would be wrong for Tillis to worry about Haugh, and not his head-to-head matchup with Hagan,” he said.

But Haugh called the attention his campaign has received a “tremendous victory.”

“However many votes I get, that’s a message,” he said.

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Rep. Cummings on Secret Service Director: ‘This Lady Has to Go’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After sleeping on Secret Service Director Julia Pierson’s testimony, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the most senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is calling for Pierson’s resignation.

“The president is not well served. …I think this lady has to go -- Ms. Pierson,” Cummings, D-Md., said during a radio interview with Roland Martin on NewsOneNow Wednesday morning. ”There has to be drastic changes.”

It appears that the latest news about an incident in Atlanta, where the president ended up on an elevator with a contractor who was a convicted felon and had concealed a firearm, was the final straw for Cummings.

“I’m convinced that she is not the person to lead that agency. My trust has eroded,” Cummings later told Diane Rhem during another interview Wednesday on WAMU. “This is supposed to be the No. 1 protective agency in the world, guarding the most protected person in the world, the most protected house in the world. And it appears they are not doing a very good job.”

Initially after the hearing Tuesday, Cummings refused to call on Pierson to step down, saying, “the jury is still out,” and that he didn’t “think she should necessarily resign.”

“I think that we are going to have to keep a very close watch on this agency,” he said Tuesday following a closed-door executive session with Pierson.

Cummings, who said he expects to have a one-on-one conversation with Pierson on Wednesday, is now the first member of Congress to flatly call for Pierson to go.

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NM Senate Candidate Stands by Controversial Campaign Video

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- New Mexico Republican Senate candidate Allen Weh says he didn’t intend to make national headlines with the release of a provocative web video that used a frame of video of American journalist James Foley’s killer -- a move his critics called “offensive.”

But now that he is in the spotlight, Weh told ABC News he has absolutely no regrets over his controversial entrance onto the national stage.

“I'm not a politically correct guy in a lot of ways, that's one thing,” Weh said. “This town may not be ready for me. I will call a spade a spade.”

Standing by the campaign video, Weh writes off the blowback he’s received as isolated “far left” critics, and points out that the Web video only showed an image of Foley’s killer and not some of the more graphic scenes.

“It didn't include the frame of the beheading, it included the frame of the killer,” said Weh. “The whole message was very simple: failed leadership in Washington. …[It had] nothing to do with that one particular jihadist.”

Weh, a retired Marine who has served in active duty three times, including in Vietnam and Iraq, is framing his military experience as an asset in a campaign that is considered an uphill battle against Democratic incumbent Sen. Tom Udall.

“I'm going to advocate for a strong American leadership in the world based on my experience,” he said.

“It's important when it comes to these issues, because I look at things with great deliberation. I'm going to be the last guy to vote to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way until it's absolutely necessary,” Weh said. "You’ve got to have a strategy, and you've got to have an end state. And when you have that, you turn it over, you select your plan to achieve that strategy and the goal, and you go for it.”

As President Obama weighs his options to counter the rise of ISIS, Weh has played up his democratic opponent’s connections to the commander-in-chief, arguing that the president’s approach to foreign policy has failed.

"He's let domestic politics drive his agenda,” Weh said of Obama. “You can't put your head in the sand, because the bad guys in the world aren't going to let us put our heads in the sand. That's part of the job I don't think he appreciated when he got elected. Well, he's getting a full dose of it now -- but he's got to man up to it.”

Though Weh has never held political office before, this is not his first foray into New Mexico politics.

He competed in the state’s 2010 gubernatorial race, but lost the Republican nomination to Susana Martinez, who went on to clinch the New Mexico governorship in the general election.

Now, Martinez’s name is being floated as a potential 2016 presidential contender.

Though Weh said he has since “mended fences” with Martinez, and that “she’s doing a great job” as governor, he declined to say whether he thinks she would make a good presidential candidate, should she run.

“Let me get elected, and then I'll come back on your show and we can talk about presidential politics -- but I'm staying away from that,” Weh said.

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Pelosi 'Subscribes' to Cummings' Analysis that Julia Pierson Should Resign

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she subscribes to Rep. Elijah Cummings' analysis that the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, should resign.

“If Mr. Cummings thinks that she should go, I subscribe to his recommendation,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a news conference Wednesday at the Capitol.

“I agree with his analysis, yes,” she reiterated. “If that’s what he is suggesting, I support his suggestion. But if you follow up and say, ‘tell me why you think she should leave,’ I don’t have the knowledge that he has so I am subscribing to his superior judgment and knowledge on the subject.”

Pelosi also joins a number of lawmakers, including Cummings, D-Md., who are calling for an independent investigation of the Secret Service after numerous incidents jeopardized their trust in the agency to guard the president.

“In terms of the Secret Service and the protection of the president of the United States…there has to be an independent investigation as to what is going on at the Secret Service,” she said. “The protection of the president has to be precise, it has to be flawless and there has to be accountability when that is not the case.”

While she said she agrees with Cummings, Pelosi also said she believes the problems at the troubled agency “may be more than one person.”

“I’d like to see an investigation of the culture and the procedure and the accountability in the Secret Service, because while I have confidence in Mr. Cummings, complete confidence, I do think that the challenge may go beyond [Pierson], because some problems existed before she was there,” Pelosi said.

“Her leaving doesn’t end the need for us to know a lot more about what is happening. But again, I would accept the recommendation of [Cummings],” she added.

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Behind Congress' 'Attack' on NFL Tax Breaks

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A raft of damaging headlines have sparked new efforts on Capitol Hill to hit the NFL where it hurts: in the pocketbook.

New bills were introduced in recent weeks to strip the National Football League of its not-for-profit status, which it holds despite the billions in revenue it helps deliver for teams, and the $44 million annual compensation package enjoyed by the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.

In the latest episode of the ESPN/ABC podcast “Capital Games,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton -- co-sponsor of the House bill that would end that tax break -- said the push is yet another way she hopes the NFL will force the Washington football team to change its nickname.

“The NFL greed is so widespread that they’ve chosen to operate as a tax-exempt organization. So we want to take that choice away from them unless, and until, they decide not to profit from a name that has now officially been declared a racial slur,” said Norton, the Democratic non-voting House member who represents the District of Columbia.

“We’re talking about the people’s money. Whether this gains traction, it’s another level of attack on the NFL,” Norton added.

While Norton is focused primarily on getting her hometown Washington Redskins to change their name, the issue of the league’s tax status is facing renewed scrutiny in the wake of a spate of domestic violence incidents involving players, in addition to recurring issues around substance abuse and head injuries.

The new efforts are being championed primarily by Democrats, including Norton, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. But they could dovetail with a longstanding push led by conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to end the special tax treatment enjoyed by the NFL, NHL and PGA, among other sports leagues.

Also on the podcast, National Journal columnist and veteran political analyst Norm Ornstein talked about what he calls the “unhealthy and unholy relationship the NFL has long maintained with Congress.” Ornstein believes the time is coming for Congress to end the “crony capitalism” that has allowed the league to get special treatment under the tax code.

Meanwhile, Michael McCann, a University of New Hampshire law professor who writes about sports legal issues for Sports Illustrated, said the tax exemption doesn’t mean that much to the NFL. He said he doesn’t see Congress moving to end it, and noted that the not-for-profit status is limited to the central league office, not the profitable individual teams.

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POLL: Broad Backing for Airstrikes on ISIS; Less for US Forces as Advisers in Iraq

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Seven in 10 Americans support airstrikes against Islamic State insurgents in Syria, but far fewer back sending U.S. forces to Iraq as advisers -- evidence in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll of the political risks of returning U.S. soldiers to that volatile region.

Fifty-three percent support sending U.S. forces to train Iraqi government troops and coordinate air strikes against Islamic State positions. But that’s comparatively modest in terms of support for military action, and 17 percentage points behind the public’s endorsement of airstrikes.

[See PDF with full results, charts and tables here.]

The Obama administration’s campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria includes placing U.S. advisers in Iraq to coordinate airstrikes, and training of Iraqi forces may occur. The president -- perhaps cognizant of broad public dismay with the U.S. intervention in Iraq under his predecessor, George W. Bush -- has pledged not to engage U.S. forces in a combat role.

Obama himself has a 50 percent approval rating for handling the conflict with ISIS in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates -- far from stellar but exceeding the 44 percent who disapprove. It’s also more than the 42 percent approval of his handling of the situation in Iraq in June and August, before U.S.-led airstrikes were extended to ISIS positions in Syria.

Notably, Obama receives approval from 30 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of conservatives for his handling of the situation -- well short of majorities, but also far above his overall job approval ratings from those groups, 10 and 19 percent, respectively, in an ABC/Post poll in early September. He also gets 45 percent approval from political independents for handling the confrontation with ISIS, 8 points better than his overall job rating from this group.

The results on military action align with longstanding public attitudes on military intervention, with lower-risk airstrikes far preferred than more-committing ground combat. Support for military action also can rely on the presence of a clear threat -- which the public sees in ISIS (six in 10 in early September called it a “very” serious threat to U.S. vital interests) -- and broad international participation, which Obama has worked to achieve.

Among groups, support for airstrikes is almost the same among men and women, at 72 and 69 percent, respectively, despite customarily higher support for military action among men. Support for sending U.S. forces in an advisory role reverts to form, dropping by 11 points among men but further, by 23 points, among women.

There are risks for Obama; sending advisers is least popular among some of his core support groups, including half or fewer of nonwhites, liberals, younger and lower-income adults, as well as women. Young adults, age 18 to 29, also are comparatively skeptical about airstrikes -- 55 percent support them, vs. 80 percent of those age 50 and older.

Regardless of divisions about advisers on the ground, the poll indicates the level of public antipathy toward ISIS. Support for airstrikes against the group in Iraq started at 45 percent in June, rose to 54 percent in August and then to 71 percent in early September, when 65 percent also said they’d support extending those strikes to Syria. With that air campaign now underway, its 70 percent support reflects a broad level of agreement in fractious political times.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone Sept. 24-28, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y.

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Obama 'Retains Full Confidence' in Secret Service Despite Security Failures

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The Secret Service has been facing tough questions in recent days after it was learned that the man who jumped the White House fence on Sept. 19 got farther into the building than previously believed.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that despite the concerns, President Obama "retains full confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do their very important work." He would not, however, say whether the president was aware of the full details of the intrusion, other than to note that Obama has "gotten a couple of briefings on this matter."

Also on Tuesday, a Secret Service official told ABC News that in a separate incident, first reported by the Washington Examiner, an armed man was allowed in an elevator with the president during a CDC event in Atlanta earlier this month.

The official said that the individual was flagged for acting unprofessionally in the elevator, and that the Secret Service later determined that he had been charged with a crime. It was not immediately clear whether the man had been convicted. The official said that Obama was not in any danger, though the incident will likely raise more questions.

"There's a common interest that exists between all of you, those of us here at the White House that work directly for the president and the officials at the Secret Service to provide accurate information as soon as possible to the American public," Earnest said Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, the fence jumper, Omar Gonzalez, was indicted by a federal grand jury. Gonzalez faces one federal charge of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. He also faces charges for two violations of District of Columbia law -- carrying a dangerous weapon outside of a home or place of business, and unlawful possession of ammunition. He is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

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Obama, Indian Prime Minister Pen Op-Ed Expressing Unity, Hope for 'Better World'

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza / Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi penned a joint op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday, discussing their countries' efforts to "help shape international security and peace for years to come."

In the piece, the two leaders point to the shared past of the two nations as an indicator of what positivity can be brought by their continued partnership. Calling the modern partnership "robust, reliable and enduring," the two noted an ongoing expansion to that relationship.

With the growth of a new government in India, Obama and Modi call for "a new agenda, one that realizes concrete benefits for our citizens." India, the op-ed says, continues to work to improve the "quality, reliability and availability of basic services, especially for the poorest of citizens," a goal that the U.S. "stands ready to assist" with.

Perhaps even more important, the two leaders note a relationship as global partners, and the hopes that together, their nations can combat "the toughest of challenges," highlighting the ongoing Ebola outbreak, researching cures for other diseases and the empowerment of women and improvement of food security in Afghanistan and Africa.

"The promise of a better tomorrow is not solely for Indians and Americans," Obama and Modi write. "It also beckons us to move forward together for a better world."

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US Energy Dept. to Keep NM Nuclear Waste Facility Closed Through 2015

Photo by Joe Raedle(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Energy Department announced on Tuesday that it would keep the New Mexico nuclear waste facility closed through 2015, following an underground fire and radiation leak earlier this year.

According to a press release from the DOE, operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., were suspended following the fire and leak in February. The facility is the only one in the U.S. for the dumping of nuclear waste.

"Safety is our top priority," said Mark Whitney, the acting assistant secretary for the DOE's Office of Environmental Management. Whitney announced the WIPP Recovery Plan, which outlines the steps that will be taken before operations can resume.

"Some of the top nuclear and recovery experts from DOE and the nuclear industry helped develo this plan and I'm confident we will be able to safely and compliantly resume operations in the first quarter of 2016," he said.

The facility is built 2,000 feet below the desert in salt mines. While it had only accepted low-level nuclear waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, officials had hoped to upgrade its permits to accept high-level nuclear waste.

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Obama, Kerry Praise Signing of Bilateral Security Agreement

State Department photo/ Public Domain / Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday praised the long-awaited signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan past the end of 2014.

In a statement, the president called the signing "a historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership," noting the opportunity to "advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan."

Obama had hoped an agreement would be signed since last year. The then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai declined to sign the agreement, and for months, the Obama administration was hopeful that following the recent Afghan presidential election -- and the ensuing audit of votes -- the new leader would agree to the deal.

The agreement gives U.S. forces and forces from partner countries the legal protection necessary to carry out the NATO Resolute Support mission after the International Security and Assistance Force mission ends at the end of the year.

Kerry echoed the praise offered by President Obama, calling the signing of the BSA "a milestone moment" that "sends a long-awaited and unequivocal message that the United States and Afghanistan are determined not just to sustain, but to build on more than a decade of progress."

"The gains of the past decade have been won with blood and treasure," Kerry said. "They must not be lost, and we all have a stake in ensuring they're a foundation upon which to build."

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Secret Service Director: White House Intrusion 'Unacceptable'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Facing an outraged Congressional committee, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson admitted the agency’s security plan “was not properly executed," calling the White House intrusion that took place on Sept. 19 “unacceptable.”

"I take full responsibility," Pierson said. "It will never happen again.”

In a startling security lapse earlier this month, 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez, armed with a 3 ½ inch serrated knife, scaled the north fence at the White House, stormed through the unlocked North Portico door, and barreled past an agent into the East Room just minutes after the first family had departed the White House.

Before he scaled the fence, Pierson revealed that two agents recognized and observed Gonzalez, who was caught with a hatchet tucked in his waistband and several firearms stashed in his car near the White House earlier this summer, but did not make contact with him or report that he was present.

"We all are outraged within the Secret Service of how this came to pass," Pierson said. "It’s obvious that mistakes were made.”

“Protecting the White House complex is a challenge in any environment,” she added. “We are never satisfied by the status quo and we are constantly reviewing our security protocols."

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa called lawmakers back to Capitol Hill to convene the rare recess hearing, saying the failure “has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service” to protect the president.

“Common sense tells us that there were a series of security failures, not an instance of praiseworthy restraint. Inexplicably, Omar Gonzalez breached at least five rings of security on September 19th,” Issa, R-Calif., said. “The White House is supposed to be one of America’s most secure facilities, and in fact, one of the world’s most secure facilities. So how on earth did it happen?”

Pierson -- brought in just 18 months ago to clean up the scandal-plagued agency -- now faces a scandal of her own.

She said 16 people have been apprehended for scaling the fence over the past five years, including six this year.

“Our goal today is also clear: to determine how this happened and make sure it does not happen again,” said Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “I hate to even imagine what could have happened if Gonzalez had been carrying a gun instead of a knife when he burst inside the White House. That possibility is extremely unsettling.”

A “crash box” alarm that should have alerted agents of an intruder had been muted at the behest of the chief usher’s office, the Washington Post reported Monday, and the agent guarding the door had no time to lock it before Gonzalez entered.

While the incident was the primary focus of the hearing, lawmakers also demanded answers about an incident the next day when an unauthorized vehicle was cleared into the White House compound, as well as a 2011 incident when a man fired several rounds at the White House while some of the president’s family was inside.

Pierson reportedly requested that much of the hearing take place behind closed doors, calling a public discussion of Secret Service practices “beyond reckless.” Lawmakers claimed the public deserves to know what happened, but agreed to hold a classified session immediately following Tuesday’s open hearing.

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