Congressman Says He Didn’t Mean to Suggest Moat to Protect White House

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., told NBC News he pitched his idea of a new water barrier at the White House to the head of the Secret Service during a closed door meeting on Wednesday.

But he never meant to advocate for an actual moat, even though he brought up the idea during a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier that day.

Cohen provided a head turning moment in the open session of the hearing when he suggested to Joseph Clancy, the acting director of the Secret Service, that a new security feature be added to the White House perimeter: "Would a, uh, a moat. Water. Six feet around, be kind of attractive and effective?"

Congressmen Suggest 'Moat,' 'Virtual Fence' to Secure White House 0:34

Cohen says he later looked up the definition of moat and realized that it is defined as a water barrier that completely surrounds a protected structure. His idea, he told NBC News, would be different.

Cohen says he proposed a deep pool or trough that could be installed behind the Pennsylvania Avenue fence line and perhaps a fountain could be added to make it more attractive to the general public.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a moat as "a deep and wide trench around the rampart of a fortified place (as a castle) that is usually filled with water"

"It could be beautiful," he said. Cohen says a fence jumper would be slowed down considerably by a water landing thus giving officers and tactical teams more time to intervene. Officials say Omar Gonzalez scaled the White House fence September 19th in about two seconds.

In public, Clancy responded to the merits of the moat suggestion, "Sir, it may be. One of the things we balance is obviously the accessibility of the White House. We recognize the historic nature of the White House and how the American people should have access to the White House."

In the closed door session, Secret Service officials presented video of the September 19th incident and reviewed a timeline of events surrounding the Gonzalez case with Judiciary panel members.

Congressman Asks, A Moat Around the White House? 0:35