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Secret Service ends White House cocaine investigation with no leads

Testing did not reveal sufficient DNA, fingerprint or video evidence to determine who brought the drug into the White House, the Secret Service said.
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WASHINGTON — The mystery of who brought cocaine into the White House remains unsolved. The Secret Service investigation has concluded with no usable forensic or video evidence identifying the person responsible, three Secret Service officials familiar with the investigation said.

The small plastic baggie with a powdered substance — which was found in a storage cubby at the White House on a Sunday evening this month — was subjected to advanced testing and examined at two federal labs, but no usable fingerprints or DNA were detected, the officials said.

The Secret Service received results Wednesday from tests conducted by the FBI, “which did not develop latent fingerprints and insufficient DNA was present for investigative comparisons,” the Secret Service said in a statement Thursday. Security camera video was also reviewed, but "[t]here was no surveillance video footage that produced investigative leads," the agency said.

Without that kind of physical evidence, the investigation has run out of road.

"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," Secret Service officials said.

A source familiar with the investigation said that “the leading theory is that the substance belonged to one of hundreds of visitors who traveled through the building over the weekend.”

Secret Service representatives briefed members of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees on Capitol Hill on Thursday after lawmakers requested answers on the probe and security protocols at the White House.

CNN first reported that the investigation had concluded without finding a suspect.

The unusual breach of White House security was found July 2 when a uniformed Secret Service officer spotted a small plastic baggie in a storage cubby at the West Executive Avenue entrance on the ground level. Visitors, contractors, military personnel and staff members use the storage cubbies to drop off electronic devices and personal items not permitted in some areas of the West Wing. The vestibule is near the Situation Room, which is out of service for renovations; an alternative secure meeting room is being used for classified briefings during construction.

Before the investigation concluded, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters, “The only people coming in and going out of the Sit Room in this period have been workers who are getting it ready to go.”  

The entrance is near where some vehicles, like the vice president’s limo or SUV, park. It is one floor below the main West Wing offices and on the same floor as the Situation Room and a dining area.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the location as “highly traveled,” saying, “West Wing visitors come through this particular area.” She said staff-led tours were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the drug was found.

The congressional committees were briefed behind closed doors Thursday morning in response to a request last week from Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., who sent a letter asking Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle for a staff-level briefing on the investigation by July 14.

“This alarming development requires the Committee to assess White House security practices and determine whose failures led to an evacuation of the building and finding of the illegal substance,” the letter said. “The presence of illegal drugs in the White House is unacceptable and a shameful moment in the White House’s history.”

Comer added, “This incident has raised additional concerns with the Committee regarding the level of security maintained at the White House.”

When the unknown powdered substance was discovered, sections of the White House were evacuated as the Washington Fire Department was called to the scene and performed a field test that identified the substance as cocaine. The sample was sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the Secret Service statement said. That testing confirmed it was cocaine and determined it was not a biological threat like anthrax or ricin.

More testing was done to review the chemical composition of the powder, the statement continued. Later at the FBI Crime Lab, the substance and the plastic bag were subjected to advanced testing that included a process called vacuum metal deposition, which is a technique in which a thin metal film is applied to a specimen to develop a reverse latent print, a Secret Service source familiar with the investigation said.

On a separate track, the Secret Service reviewed entrance logs and video that investigators said covered several days before the item was found. They created an index of several hundred people who could have gotten into the area, according to the agency. But the work could not be used to connect any dots. Officials said that without usable forensic findings, “the investigation is not able to compare evidence against a known pool of individuals.”

White House officials noted the Biden family was not at the White House when the cocaine was discovered; the president and his family had left for the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, for the holiday weekend on June 30, a Friday, and did not return to the White House until July 4, a Tuesday, after the cocaine had been discovered. At a news briefing, Jean-Pierre said, “The president thinks it’s incredibly important to get to the bottom of it.”

But the search for answers is over without having found a suspect.  

In a review of recent years, the Secret Service found two incidents in which small amounts of marijuana were detected by Uniformed Division officers and reports were filed, Secret Service officials said. No charges were brought because the amounts were legal under Washington law at the time. The people were notified that they could not bring the marijuana to the White House campus, the officials said.