THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We'd like to bring you up to date now on events at the White House, where the Secret Service is taking a greater than usual interest in this car on the driveway near the west wing on the north side, the north lawn of the west wing. A Secret Service dog has taken a great interest in the car and has positioned itself there, which is a signal to agents that there may be something amiss.
So parts of the White House are actually being evacuated as we speak, including at area where our White House reports do their work, the briefing room, from which our Kelly Wallace was reporting just moments ago. And before she had to leave, she was explaining that there was a little bit more traffic than usual at the White House today. You saw earlier here on CNN LIVE THIS MORNING the president making an announcement about his overhaul of the Medicare system, his plans for that.
Invited to the Rose Garden to hear him make that speech, several members of Congress, members of various federal agencies. And so there were an awful lot of cars that had to be cleared, this apparently one of them. You can also see from this image that the car got inside the main gate on the north lawn and was stopped near what appear to be an awful lot of television cameras. They're not there because of the car. They're permanently installed there to provide the kind of image from the White House lawn that lets us use the White House itself as a backdrop when our White House correspondents are reporting.
No news yet on the exact concern over the car, just that there is some suspicion that something is amiss. We will bring you up to date on this story when our correspondents are back in touch with us, even including when they're on a cell phone. But, Daryn, as you saw from our last report, there was quite a bit of movement in the briefing room.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And we should also point out to our viewers who are watching this that not necessarily an evacuation but concern over unidentified objects does happen on a regular basis, security at a high level at the White House for obvious reasons and they're taking a great precaution. What, I guess, caused interest in this particular car earlier was one of the dogs that the Secret Service use was just doing routine checks of vehicles on the driveway and it reacted to one of the cars. These dogs, we should point out, are trained to smell materials that are used in explosives. Now, of course, we have no indication that there might be an explosive with these cars, but that is what the dogs are trained to do, and taking full precaution at the White House.
And as you mentioned, that car was there in a line of other vehicles that were there earlier today for that big ceremony that was in the Rose Garden as the president was announcing different Medicare reforms.
FRAZIER: When last we heard from Kelly Wallace, she was explaining that the president is, in fact, in the White House, in another area of the White House where he wouldn't be in any danger. But apparently the concern is great enough now for us to move that last camera that was providing the picture of the car, the camera has moved. Oh, it's back now unless we're playing tape of the car. But a moment ago it appeared that the camera itself was being moved, that, in fact, it was. These are taped images that we're replaying for you now of the car in question.
KAGAN: So far the only information we have is that the west wing of the White House that has been evacuated, and as you mentioned, the president is still there, but in a different part of the White House.
FRAZIER: All of this bringing to mind that the number of incidents that have occurred around the White House, especially outside the White House gates. It was just a few months ago that there was a shooting directed at the White House from the south lawn, the area now where they play T-ball, if you recall some of our weekend coverage.
And a gentleman was wrestled to the ground outside that wrought iron fence which you can see, which extends the full perimeter of the White House. And throughout that, the president was in the White House, was never in any danger. He was, in fact, working out on some of his fitness equipment and didn't have to be interrupted at all.
KAGAN: Right. And even in that situation, which actually that's a good example of how high alert they are, it wasn't clear whether he was trying to threaten other people or whether he was, that was even a suicide attempt at that time.
FRAZIER: Yes, that sad event was a gentleman who presented himself at the White House and then had to be talked out of holding a gun to his own head and...
KAGAN: Absolutely. We've also seen this happen when there's just a suspicious backpack left behind. And once again, what we're focusing on now is this car. That was just left on the grounds and as we mentioned before, there was an event earlier today in the Rose Garden. A number of VIPs were present for that and a number of people. This might just be simply a case of a misunderstanding, of somebody who left their car behind or perhaps is conducting business someplace else, a paperwork problem. FRAZIER: Well, it is interesting, Daryn, that this is obviously a private car here and it looks to me like a model that is of Japanese origin. Usually the cars you see on that driveway, based on my experience, are limousines. You know, they're official cars, they're agency cars. They're not stretch limos like you'd see carrying entertainers around New York. They're just navy blue or black sedans, about as unobtrusive as they come.
This isn't exactly a flashy car, but it also doesn't look like an official car either. So for some sense of what's happening, let's turn to our White House correspondent, senior White House correspondent John King, who has arrived at the bureau on the set there and can fill us in -- John?
KAGAN: John, any insight you can give us into this?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn and Stephen, I just spoke by telephone to Jim Mackin. He is the lead Secret Service spokesman. And he does confirm to us that the east side of the old executive office building and some of the west wing, including the press room and the offices that face toward that driveway, including the offices of the press secretary, Ari Fleischer, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, those offices have been evacuated, including our personnel at the White House.
We're told right now they view this, though, mostly as a precaution and that the president remains in the west wing, at least as of a few moments ago. The Oval Office is on the back side of the building.
What happened, we're told, is that car is in the driveway. The president, when he has events in the back, as he had today to announce his Medicare plan, often members of Congress and others invited to the event come in through that gate on the north lawn and park in that driveway, as you can see, right near where the press operation is set up.
A dog twice sniffed on the car. Now, the dog is trained, we're told, to sniff only for explosives and that is the reason for concern. The dog came by once and sniffed on the car and stopped, as the dog is trained to do. It will sit next to the car, alerting its owner, the Secret Service agent, that there might be a problem. We're told they took the dog away and the dog then came back and again alerted on the very same spot of that vehicle so the Secret Service decided, we're told, as a precautionary measure, to evacuate.
Now, the bomb squad experts on the team decide how far, how much space they need to evacuate everybody. Those steps were taken. Again, the part of the White House, the west wing. You're looking there at the front of the White House, the residence. It would be on your screen to the right of that. The west wing, where the press office is, where the briefing room is that you might see every day, where the press secretary's office is. Those offices have been evacuated as well as across the driveway, the old executive office building, the offices facing that driveway have been evacuated. Again, the Secret Service saying they will now bring in other personnel, bomb squad personnel.
They're viewing this mainly as a precaution. This car, again, somebody who was invited to a presidential event at the White House, but just to be safe, the Secret Service saying that people are being evacuated. Again, they say the president is in the complex and they do not believe he is in any danger at all.
KAGAN: So, John, the question here isn't who this car belongs to. They're clear on that. The question is and the alert is because of the response of the dog?
KING: That's right. This car was cleared into the event. You cannot get into that part of the complex. There are iron gates, steel gates around the complex. This car was cleared into the president's event on Medicaid or some other -- Medicare, excuse me, or some other White House appointment. But we do know there were members there just a short time ago. And it is routine for this to happen. If one or two cars come, they tend to be further up. This car is pretty much behind where you might see myself of Kelly Wallace or Major Garrett standing on the White House lawn when we do our live reports on the air, parked in the driveway. They pull in for the events, they leave routinely afterwards.
The dogs, do, though, move back and forth from time to time just, again, routine security inside of the White House grounds. And when this dog tested twice on this car, they decided to evacuate as a precaution. They will now bring in bomb squad teams and anyone else they deem necessary to assess just, indeed, whether there is a security risk or, as the Secret Service spokesman, Jim Mackin, said, he said these dogs are very well trained, but there often are false alarms. And they are hopeful, of course, that that is what is the case here.
KAGAN: And give us a sense, John, from all your years at the White House and the time that you spent there, that you spend there of this level of evacuation.
KING: Well, this is pretty major in the sense that usually these cars are tested on the outside. I have never been there where they've evacuated this much territory except in the examples of when you have had shootings. And usually when you've had shootings on the grounds or nearby, what they do is they lock you down inside because they don't want you outside. If the police, the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are, it's the Secret Service on the grounds and sometimes D.C. police responds outside the grounds, obviously they do not want people running around if there is any example of a shooting. So they would lock you down in the building and perhaps move you to another portion of the building.
There was one time several years back when a gentleman fired a gun from the outside, from Pennsylvania Avenue, that actually came through a briefing room window. In those circumstances, they tend to ask you to stay put inside the building, to actually evacuate people outside of the building and to move them.
We're told Major Garrett was in Ari Fleischer's office when they came in with a note asking reporters to leave and told Ari Fleischer that he, too, had to evacuate that part of the building. That was shortly after 11:00. That's an extraordinary step, but again, Jim Mackin, the Secret Service spokesman, saying it's taken now just as a precaution and there are other routine operations going on inside the White House. And, indeed, after the dog tested the first time, there were still cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, others invited to that Medicare event were just 75 to 100 feet away from that car you see on our screen right now, speaking to reporters after the president's event.
So the first time the dog tested, they did not respond right away in any way that would indicate an emergency. But after the dog tested a second time and sat near that car, the Secret Service decided as a precaution it would be safest to evacuate everyone.
FRAZIER: John, Frazier here. If I can ask you a little bit more about the arrangement of spaces there on the White House. This is the side of the White House where the setback from Pennsylvania Avenue isn't as great as the other side, isn't that right? And Pennsylvania Avenue still closed off to traffic for these very concerns?
KING: That's right. Pennsylvania Avenue still closed off to traffic because of these concerns. That is the, this is the north side of the White House. People tend to view it as the front of the White House. It's actually the back of the White House. The formal entrance is on the south side. The diplomatic entrance is on the south side, a much greater distance from the south side to the street behind the White House and to the Ellipse and the Mall than it is from Pennsylvania -- on the Pennsylvania Avenue side, the north side, which we're talking about, relatively close to the street. It's 100 yards, probably a little bit more than that on the lawn there. But you can, certainly if you are standing outside the White House gates looking in, as many tourists do, you can see people milling about inside and you can get a pretty good glimpse of the building. You probably could not recognize somebody from the street itself, but you are much closer in proximity.
And not only is Pennsylvania Avenue blocked off, but there are Secret Service agents along that gate all the way down in the front of the building as well as on both sides of the building. Uniformed Secret Service patrol the perimeter of the White House. And obviously, the president has own plainclothes Secret Service detail inside. Then they have routine steps they follow whenever there are at various levels of alert.
Again, we should emphasize here that as they check out this car, that twice a dog trained to test for explosives stopped at this car. Secret Service say they believe it is probably a false alarm, but they need to take these precautionary steps, and the president is in the complex and do not believe he is in any danger at all.
FRAZIER: I don't think it's apparent to the public, John, but the briefing room in the offices where you work are down a flight of stairs because the ground dips a little bit. There's a sink in the elevation there. What about the rooms above, the offices that you mention, that face onto that view, that elevation? Have the windows been strengthened at all? Have there been any other kinds of security measures actually built into the White House?
KING: Although the Secret Service and others at the White House prefer we not talk about everything we know about security, it is safe to say the building is more secure than most. If you can recall again, on the left side of the screen, you are looking at the White House residents' entrance. If you can remember, from viewing in the past, perhaps, we sometimes show the West Wing entrance in our coverage. You'll see visiting heads of state tend to go into the entrance; when they leave, we show pictures, or when congressmen or others come to what we call a stakeout at the White House, to speak to reporters, you see the West Wing entrance behind them.
There's often a marine standing there. If the marine is standing there, that is an indication that the president indeed is in the West Wing.
Those buildings themselves are quite secure. There's a reception lobby inside, there are agents outside, and just to get in the complex, you must be cleared in -- you can't just walk in and get within feet of the White House.
There are precautionary measures on the inside. As you mentioned, the briefing room is just to the right of the picture you see of the White House residence. There's the press operation, and the briefing room is there, and then the West Wing, where the official offices of the president himself his senior staff are. Some of them are street level, some are down below. A few are above that. On the street level, it's the press secretary, the national security adviser, and some others. It is the press secretary and the national security adviser's office that face the driveway where that car is.
It's 150 yards or so from where that car is to building itself, but they decided to evacuate those offices as a precaution.
KAGAN: John, as part of that evacuation, our Kelly Wallace and Major Garrett were both inside the White House at the time, and they're making their way out. As I understand it, Kelly's on her way to the Old Executive Office Building, and we're going to hear from her in a moment, when she gets in place.
Meanwhile, are you able to tell us, or are your sources able to tell you, what the next step is, after the evacuation?
KING: We're told that they will bring in a bomb squad and others that they deem necessary actually to take a closer look at the car. They have the information. They have not shared it with us. They will get in touch with the owner of the vehicle, I'm sure, and run other precautions. Again, Jim Mackin, the Secret Service spokesman saying they would take routine steps now -- and he viewed this evacuation as a routine step -- obviously, it is intrusive to some people, but he called it a routine step, that those on the scene decided the amount of distance they needed to move people back from this vehicle -- and now they will come in and test the vehicle itself and decide whether there are any other additional steps necessary. He did say several times, though, these dogs, as well trained as they are, do false tests quite a bit. FRAZIER: I want to point out, John, as we're talking, that on your screen, we can see an image of the White House, and we have that little tab on there showing you that that's a live image. The camera that made the picture of the car, I think, has been moved, so what we're looking at is a taped image of the car; we don't know what's happening around it at this moment.
There, from a wider view, you get a sense of the fall-off in the ground that you and I were discussing a little while ago, the sense that the office where the greatest number of people have gathered may be shielded from -- getting ahead of ourselves -- any kind of a blast effect if that car were to go up.
KING: We're told that people have been brought over to the Old Executive Office Building -- it's now called the Dwight D. Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building. People were told in the West Wing -- again, where the press offices are located and where our offices are located -- they had to leave that part of the building, and they either had to go to the Old Executive Office Building and go onto the 17th Street side of that building, not facing that driveway, or they would have to leave the complex altogether. So the choice was to go into the Old Executive Office Building on the side away from the White House driveway or to leave the complex altogether while the Secret Service carries out additional tests.
KAGAN: John, we're going to have you standby in the bureau.
Major Garrett was in the White House when this evacuation took place. Now he's made his way to the Old Executive Office Building.
Major, what can you tell us about what took place just a few minutes ago?
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, a lot of reporters, myself included, were in Ari Fleischer's office. It was about 11:05 this morning, while while we were asking questions of Mr. Fleischer -- as we always do in the morning -- what we call the gaggle -- Gordon Johndroe, who is an assistant who works for Mr. Fleischer, came in and handed him a Post-it note it, and on that note it said, We must evacuate this section of the West Wing.
At that moment, Ari Fleischer stood up and said, we've got to stop this; we need to go to the Old Executive Office Building. There was a little bit of confusion, a little bumping around. We made our way through the briefing room. I walked past my colleague Kelly Wallace, told her all I knew about the evacuation. We came across the driveway that you have seen most of the morning as this story has developed.
We are now in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in room 450. This is a frequent location for presidents to come and make announcements, to have ceremonies. There was one here earlier this week. Many of the members of the White House press corps are here.
As we were in the elevator coming up to this room, there was an announcement on the overhead intercom in that elevator. That announcement roughly said as follows: All employees in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on all floors facing West Executive Boulevard -- basically, on the east side of building -- we are asking you to evacuate your offices and move to other side of the building, as a precautionary measure.
That has also been going on. As we were making our way through the hallway, we could see staffers pouring out of these offices. They were mingling with us, moving around, everyone trying to find a safe place here in the Executive Office Building.
We are clearly in a safe place here in room 450. The situation is developing. John King has given a very good analysis of how the Secret Service intervenes in matters like this. It takes the utmost precautionary steps whenever there's a situation that they're not absolutely sure about. I think that's the situation we find ourselves in right now.
KAGAN: But Major, just to be clear, officials are telling you you are safe to stay where you are, correct?
GARRETT: Absolutely. We have been moved to what they consider to be a very safe part of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Right behind the camera that is currently taking this picture of me, there's a window, and from that window, I can look across Pennsylvania Avenue and see Blair House. We are not on the east side of building; we are on the north side of the building, and they consider that a very safe place for us to be.
KAGAN: We just wanted to double check on that, on your safety.
And Kelly Wallace was there in the White House as well when the events started.
And we're going to have Stephen talk with her -- Stephen.
FRAZIER: Kelly, while you're talking with us, if you are able to hear me, we're looking at pictures that are coming in from our affiliate WTTG. They're made from a high location, I think across Lafayette Park, looking down. They show both of the cars, but also show the Secret Service guardhouse, and I think we ought to explain -- these are made from a helicopter, I'm told now -- that even you, as daily visitor to the White House, don't just walk in the gate there; you have to go through the guardhouse itself, show Secret Service your bag, your badges and everything else, and then be released from the guardhouse onto the lawn.
WALLACE: Absolutely. Stephen, I can't see those pictures. I'm actually on the first floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
You are absolutely right: Any visitor to the White House must be cleared in or have a card pass, which entitles you to come into the White House. You pass through metal detectors. All your bags are passed through that metal detector to check for anything -- and of course, any cars. Lawmakers come to the White House. There have been a whole slew of lawmakers here today and over the past few day as the president's been meeting with members and trying to build support for his legislative agenda. So those lawmakers will have their cars often driven through that northwest gate and then remain along the curb there, along the north lawn, which is exactly behind where we do our report from, where we have our television cameras.
FRAZIER: Kelly, let me ask you to stand by for just a moment, because we're seeing two things.
We want to talk to John King now, who's got some new information.
John, as we talk to you, be at advised we're looking at pictures of what appear to be security officials working the car. They've got one of the doors open. They're kneeling next to it now.
KING: That's right, Steven. I just spoke again to Jim Mackin, who is the Secret Service lead spokesman. The dogs who sniff are assigned to the uniform division, which guard the perimeter of the White House complex. What they have done is once the dog had alerted twice -- "alerted" is the term they use -- to this vehicle, as call what's called the Secret Service Technical Services Division -- it is the bomb squad unit of the Secret Service, They've brought in a sweep team to sweep the car. They will test -- you see that gentleman walking away from the car right now...
FRAZIER: With armor on, John. It looks like he's got some kind of padding and armor.
KING: He's a member of the bomb squad, and he is wearing that equipment for precautionary reasons.
You see he's opened the door of the vehicle where the dog had alerted. His job is to go in and test it. The Secret Service is saying, again, it is their assumption that this is a false alert and that this car will be cleared and that this evacuation will be lifted in a matter of minutes. Again, they say they need the report from that individual, who's a member of the sweep team.
Before going in there, Jim Mackin saying this is routine procedure: They evacuate, they call in what is called the technical services division -- and the bomb squad of the Secret Service works for the technical services division. That individual you just saw leaving -- the security personnel -- is essentially conducting a follow-up investigation on the area of the car where that dog twice alerted. They will check to see if there are an explosives.
If indeed it is a false test, the evacuation will be lifted as soon as possible, , Jim Mackin says.
If, of course, there are explosives in the vehicle, then they would bring in the bomb squad itself to take whatever necessary steps.
FRAZIER: No sign of the dog which first alerted everyone that there was some issue about this car. And now it appears to be alone. The individual you were mentioning, John, has walked away to that guard house that Kelly and I were discussing when you joined us there, where the Secret Service are permanently assigned.
FRAZIER: Actually, they're security guards, I'm not sure they're Secret Service.
KING: It's uniform Secret Service. Uniform Secret Service guards the perimeter of the building, and then there are various divisions within the Secret Service that performance different functions.
You have the plain-clothes presidential security detail and you also have a number of others. There are SWAT Team -- you see gentlemen sometime wearing vests. You see this -- it appears as if the gentleman is going back to the car now. We see him walking along the side of the vehicle.
And again, this is described, as we watch this, as a routine procedure that would be taken by the Secret Service bomb squad.
KAGAN: John, we're able to see this courtesy of our cameras of WTTG that clearly have an aerial view of the White House -- have a cherry-picker view there. But is this -- would someone be able to see this from the street?
KING: Sure. You're relatively close to the street here. It's a matter of, oh, I'm going to guess the length of football field; 100 yards, maybe 75 yards from the perimeter of the fence.
The question is -- and I cannot see on the outside -- the question is whether they've evacuated the street and kept tourists away. I suspect they have. Usually in these situations you have 17th Street to the one side of White House. You have Lafayette Park directly across from the White House. 15th Street is on the far side of the White House, past the Treasury Building -- you would walk back to Treasury.
Usually in cases where there are what the Secret Service calls lockdowns or evacuations, they will stop people from walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. And certainly if they evacuated our personnel from the building -- this car is closer to the street or maybe halfway between the street and the building -- I would have to assume, and again, I can't see that side, and maybe Kelly and Major know this information, but that they have locked down the street as well and they're not allowing people to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue as they conduct this operation.
KAGAN: Kelly and Major, do you have that information?
Major, are you with us?
OK, while we try to get Major on the line, there...
GARRETT: Can you hear me, Daryn? KAGAN: Yes, we can.
GARRETT: OK. As John was assuming, I can confirm that's, in fact, what the Secret Service did.
As we were being escorted from the White House briefing room I asked the uniform division officers there, have you also done a lockdown; have you also secured the area outside the gate along Pennsylvania Avenue where tourist frequently walk? Secret Service agents said, in fact, that they had.
It is also, we must underscore, a standard precaution under a situation like this. The Secret Service always errs on the side of extreme caution in a situation like this.
So the perimeter outside the White House gate -- Pennsylvania Avenue where tourists, especially in the summertime months, come to walk and look at the White House, that has been locked down. There is no tourist traffic along there. And as, of course, we have already indicated the briefing room has been evacuated. Some parts of the West Wing have been evacuated. Those of us who have been evacuated have been brought here to a safer portion -- or what the Secret Service certainly considers a safer portion of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- Daryn.
FRAZIER: John, Frazier here. And as you're talking to us, we're looking now at the images of the car with the hood open as well as the driver's side door. And all of this coming as, John, you and I -- and I don't think -- Major has traveled to these, but we haven't discussed this: During earlier incidents we talked about the fact that although this one of the most secure buildings in the world, it's the people's house. And there is no sort of militarized appearance to it.
You know, you can go to other nations, look at the places where their heads of government work, where their heads of state reside, and clearly there's a much higher security presence visible to the public. But here it's really invisible to people walking by.
KING: I wouldn't say quite invisible. And, actually, there's quite a controversy in the District of Columbia about whether or not to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue.
But certainly it is a much less secure environment, you're right, as many other presidential complexes around the world. But there has been a controversy since they closed Pennsylvania Avenue, which used to be main thoroughfare through downtown Washington, D.C., as to whether that should be reopened.
And, indeed, during the presidential campaign, then-Governor George W. Bush indicated he would take a look at that. But presidents tend to defer to the Secret Service, and this president has a great deal of respect for them, as do others. And the Secret Service opinion is, as a matter of security, that Pennsylvania Avenue should be kept closed.
The mayor of Washington, D.C. wants it open. Many of the commerce groups, the trade groups in Washington want that back open. Tour buses, of course, would love to pass so closely to the White House. But this president, after indicating he might lift that has, at least to this date, so far taken the advice of the Secret Service, which is, unfortunately -- and the Secret Service says that -- unfortunately, given the security environment they believe is necessary to maintain around the White House, they want to keep that street closed.
FRAZIER: And let me make myself clear there, out of respect for the Secret Service and the work they do; I'm speaking more about appearances, John, than about the actual nature of security. You just see more guards in other nations and in their locations. I think they're all there at the White House, from my own personal experience, but they're sort of -- they're invisible to the naked eye, is what I guess I'm saying.
KING: Invisible to the naked eye until something like this happens or, in the more unfortunate events, we hope, when we've had shootings in the past on the grounds or near the grounds, They tend to appear pretty quickly. They're there all the time, and there are some we know about and some we don't know about. Very highly sophisticated security measures around the White House.
And again, we are careful not to talk about them, simply not to encourage people to do things that would be reckless. So we don't talk about many of the things we know about the precautions we go through every day when we're with the president, whether it's at the White House or on the road. It would just be irresponsible to do so...
KAGAN: John, let me jump in here...
KING: But there is a great deal of security and a great deal of technology at play around this White House.
And you're right, the Secret Service, as much as they can, stays out of the public eye until or unless they feel they have to maintain a large presence around the White House.
KAGAN: John, let me jump in here for just a second and have you point out this view we're currently getting from Lafayette Park -- for people who might have visited around the White House, if you can kind of give them their bearings from the view that we can see right now with this shot?
KING: If you're in downtown D.C. and you're directly across from the White House is Lafayette Park. And if you've heard of a protest outside the White House or seen pictures of a protest outside the White House, that generally takes place directly across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park.
And you can see through the gates there. You see the trees and the gates on the White House complex. That driveway is right inside the northwest gate of the White House. I believe an individual just went back and kneeled down into the front seat of that car again, where the door is open. If you walk straight down that driveway, you see that -- the roof of the building you see there is the northwest perimeter, the security gate at the northwest perimeter of the White House. If you walk straight down that driveway that you're seeing there now, the trees obscure your view at the end of it, but 100, 150 yards down that driveway from where we are is the entrance to the West Wing, which is where the president's office is. The Oval Office, though, is on the backside of the West Wing.
And, again, we are told the president was in the West Wing at the time of this evacuation. That the back half of the West Wing, the south side of the White House has not been evacuated. So as of a few minutes ago, anyway, he was still in the West Wing. He routinely goes over to the residence during the day, sometimes to go to the gym, so we're not certain where he is at the moment...
KAGAN: Well actually, John, we're getting some reports here at CNN that the president and vice president are still both in the White House, and they're getting ready to eat lunch. So that shows you their level of concern at this point.
KAGAN: For people who are just joining us -- go ahead, I don't want to interrupt you; go ahead.
KING: They place a great deal of faith in the Secret Service.
And, again, they've evacuate those areas of the complex -- both the White House and the old Executive Office Building that directly face this driveway in the event there were explosives in this car. And we should say again the Secret Service view is that this is most likely a false alert by the dog.
But in the event there were explosives in this car, as a precautionary measure the portions of White House West Wing and the old Executive Office Building that directly face this driveway have been evacuated. The president's office and the vice president's office -- the Oval Office and the vice president's office is just down the hall in the West Wing, or on the backside of the building. And the Secret Service has made the determination that they are at no risk, and that they are free, as well as other senior staffers at the White House whose offices are on the backside -- the south side of the building were free to say.
It is those on the north side who have been evacuated, as long -- as well as the press people in the building as a precaution.
KAGAN: All right John, we're going to cut you loose for just a moment, let you make some phone calls and gather some more information for us, take it back to Major Garrett, who's at the old Executive Office Building.
Major, for viewers who are just joining us now, why don't you bring us up to date on what happened, beginning with the event that was taking place earlier today in the Rose Garden? GARRETT: OK, Daryn. This all got started roughly about 9:40-or- so. There was first some acknowledgment of the Secret Service that there was a security concern. Those of us -- television correspondents who are on what we call the north lawn, the position where we often do our live shots to report information from the White House -- were notified that we had to move off that position to go closer into the briefing room. That was the first indication we had there was a security concern here at the White House.
As the situation developed, we then learned that there was this vehicle and that there had been an alert twice by a Secret Service dog who was making a routine check of this vehicle parked in the driveway.
At about 11:05, while numerous White House reporters, this one includes, were in the White House press secretary's office -- Ari Fleischer's office -- at about 11:05 an employee who works for Ari Fleischer -- his name is Gordon Johndroe came in to this session where we were asking questions of the press secretary, handed Ari Fleischer a Post-It Note. And on that Post-It Note it said, we must evacuate this office, and other parts of the West Wing are being evacuated as a security precaution.
At that instant Ari Fleischer stood up from his desk and said, I'm sorry, we have to stop the questions, we all have to leave. We were escorted through the White House briefing room. Other reporters and other people who work in the press who were in the press room were told, you have to leave.
There was a slight, little bit of confusion as we all waited outside. The Secret Service and White House employees escorted us over here to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. As we were riding up in the elevator to get to where we are now, which is room 450 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we could hear an intercom overhead in the elevator itself. And on that intercom, a notice was being read to all employees on all floors on the eastern part of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. And that intercom report said, please evacuate your offices as a precautionary measure.
Now, not everyone in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, only those whose offices face what we call West Executive Boulevard. That is the area where this vehicle is, and is being checked by the Secret Service.
So as those of us who cover the White House were making our way to this room, we found ourselves bumping into people who were leaving their offices to evacuate per this announcement that came over the intercom on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
And we have been here ever since. As you can see, the Secret Service is dealing with this vehicle. We have had no more updates about the status of the vehicle itself or the length of this evacuation procedure. But as John King has so thoroughly described, and so accurately described, the Secret Service, in situations like this, absolutely errs on the side of maximum caution.
And as Jim Mackin, the spokesman for the Secret Service has indicated, they do believe ultimately this will be ruled a false alert, but they are taking absolutely no chances, and that's why we're here -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Great. Major, we're going to have you stand by. Once again we want to just remind our viewers we're looking at a view of the car that is parked on the White House grounds. This is a view from Lafayette Park. And the car in question that has caused all this concern is parked in front of that umbrella-looking item.
I think we also have John back.
Stephen, why don't you talk with him.
FRAZIER: And John, as we toss to you, we just want to point out that our view of the car includes the work of an individual who seems now to be unguarded by that protective armor we saw earlier. There's a man walking around in shirtsleeves who has opened the passenger side door as well as the hood and the driver's side door; and now the trunk, too, which I think he opened with a remote control. It looked like he opened it as he was approaching the car.
KING: Well, Stephen, the owner of the vehicle obviously in the complex. So it would appear, if he has the keys, that he would be cooperating. The Secret Service saying the vehicle was cleared to be in the White House.
I just spoke moments ago with Jim Mackin, who's been quite cooperative with us, and he's the Secret Service spokesman. And he said he hopes to have word in just a few minutes. He says, as we watch these pictures, this is a routine protocol the Secret Service must follow when you have a situation like this.
Again, for those just joining us, a dog trained to sniff for explosives twice alerted when it was sent by to screen this vehicle. It screens -- the dogs routinely screen the vehicles that are brought inside the White House. The dog alerted once, so they brought it away; came back, alerted again.
The Secret Service, assuming this is a false alarm, say this vehicle has a can of gas in the back, in case the person ran out of gas. Perhaps, even, an emergency flare.
There are substances that are routinely in the trunks of vehicles that these dogs occasionally might alert to. The Secret Services saying that is what they assume is what's happening here, but as a precaution, given the fact that this is inside the White House complex, that once the dog alerted twice, it is their protocol to bring in officials from the technical services division, which in common-speak would be the bomb squad, to check out this vehicle.
We've been watching them do it -- that now for the past several minutes. First they tested inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle, then they lifted the hood. Now, of course, they're looking in the trunk. They're going to give this car a thorough once over; perhaps a twice and thrice-over. And again, Jim Mackin, the Secret Service spokesman saying that, assuming the car is clear and that this was a false alert -- perhaps an alert for some substance, but not any explosives, that they should have a clear as soon as possible, and the evacuation would be lifted.
And, again, as you see the individuals walking by -- don't want to jump to conclusions, but it certainly appears that they are much more at ease around this vehicle right now than they were just a few moments ago.
FRAZIER: Yes, John, four of them now approaching the car, and all in shirtsleeves and what looks to be streetwear, and...
KAGAN: It's quite different, though, from what we saw just -- even a couple minutes ago when you saw that somebody who was clearly from the bomb squad, who was in the full gear and all the protective padding.
KING: Well, one of the things they will do now is, if this is a false alert, one of the things they will do, as part of their training, is to find out why: What did the dog alert to? Is there any way to, perhaps, better train the dogs? Is there any way to screen the vehicles? Is there a protocol they need to impose on vehicles entering the White House saying, you must not have this in your vehicle?
In any situation like this, the Secret Service learns from any security environment, and that's part of the training as well. And again, Jim Mackin telling us there are a series of protocols they have to run through. He hopes, because of the inconvenience -- again, assuming this was a false alert, as they expect and as they hope -- obviously this is inconveniencing some people, but this is something the Secret Service feels is quite necessary, just to make sure they check this car out thoroughly before they let anybody back into the complex.
KAGAN: I don't know if we can see from this shot, but on another shot -- the one from Lafayette Park, I just saw them walk away with -- they had another dog. So is it possible that they would be bringing more dogs in for yet another part of this thorough search and check?
KING: Again, without getting into too many details, if the Secret Service has an alert somewhere on the White House complex, you can be certain that they are on guard elsewhere around the White House complex just in case. Again, a precautionary measure they must take. You don't want to have all the agents, all the personnel, run to one site. This is the complex where the president lives and works.
And so you will often see, in a situation where there might be a specific incident they are investigating, and 99 times out of 100 -- even more than that -- there are backpacks people leave in front of White House. When they're taking pictures, they drop them to take a picture and they forget and they walk away. And the Secret Service has to investigate that.
This is a situation where -- viewed as a bit more seriously because the dog twice alerted inside the complex. But, again, they're investigating this vehicle. As they do so they will, of course, go on a higher level of alert around the complex, again, as a precaution, just in case.
FRAZIER: John why don't you catch your breath while we talk for a moment more with Major Garrett.
And Major, one of the things I wanted to ask about refers to a comment John made about the fact that the White House is now locked down. You confirmed that. What happens to the president's list of appointments, in your experience, when this is happening? I mean, does he just work off the phone and continue his efforts that way? We know he's still there, still working.
GARRETT: Still there, still working. On his schedule is a lunch today with the vice president. And every indication that we have received is that lunch is going on exactly as scheduled.
As for appointments, well, if you're trying to get into the White House compound right now, you're not going to be able to, even if you are a very high-level dignitary because the situation is one in which the Secret Service is intervening, is trying to make sure it knows everything about the security of the entire White House compound. And as such, is making sure that no one goes in or go out. Everyone freezes while they deal with the particular security concern that they have at the moment.
But we are told that the president and the vice president are going to proceed with their lunch as scheduled. And as far as the president's schedule and his activities, nothing has changed, so far as we have been told.
If I could, Stephen, let me try to add a little bit larger context to the situation we're dealing with now. Every situation that the Secret Service deals with of a security nature is individual and separate. But I can tell you, just a couple -- three months ago, I was at the White House, I was preparing to do a live shot on the north lawn and I was asked, as all the other reporter's were, to move inside the briefing room. All that territory was evacuated. We were all told to sit in the briefing room.
Why? Well, because there was a small backpack left on Pennsylvania Avenue against the gate, very near the northwest guard shack that we have talked about. And what happened? Well, the Secret Service brought out the bomb squad. A gentleman dressed almost exactly the way we saw that gentleman just a few minutes ago approached the backpack, took a look inside. It was soon cleared.
What did it turn out to be? A child's Winnie the Pooh backpack. All very innocent. It actually engendered a few chuckles around the White House complex. But let me tell you, the Secret Service doesn't joke about these things. And as John King has pointed out, it has a protocol, and the protocol never waivers. And it doesn't take anything away from the security precautions the Secret Service will engage in. And they don't mind if anyone laughs about a Winnie the Pooh backpack. They have a procedure, they follow it to the tee, and that's what's happening right now -- Stephen.
FRAZIER: What do you think was in that backpack that alerted the Secret Service? Was there some odor coming from it?
GARRETT: It doesn't have to be an odor. It was a backpack left near the gate, and that's all that is required. There doesn't need to be an odor, no dog came by it. It was just an article left near the gate near the White House compound, and that is enough. That is enough to attract the Secret Service's attention, because they can never be sure.
Most times it's very innocent, as it was in that case. A child was excited seeing the White House, left their school backpack behind. That happens a lot. But the Secret Service says, we are never going to let our guard down when something like that happens. It's a strange package, we don't know what's in it. We're going to take a look, and as we take a look, we're going to exercise maximum caution for the president, the larger White House family and everyone around it.
And that's exactly what happened in that situation. The backpack was inspected, it was cleared. It was all very innocent, but the Secret Service, again, exercised maximum caution -- Stephen.
FRAZIER: Well, I think that's an exercise, Major, that most Americans would be grateful for.
And to hear a little bit more about how that works, let's turn to Daryn now.
KAGAN: Yes, we have an incredible resource here at CNN, our own Dwight Ellison, who is the head of security for us here at Turner Broadcasting. He's a former Secret Service agent. We've called on him before in situations like this to help us understand what is taking place in terms of security, and also what is taking place in terms of the White House grounds.
And Dwight is standing over by our smart screen right now.
And Dwight, perhaps you can explain where this is taking place, and as much as you understand about the security precautions taking place at this time.
DWIGHT ELLISON, TURNER SECURITY DIRECTOR: Well, based on what I've heard so far, the car -- it appears as if the vehicle is on the north grounds. There's a semicircular turnaround drive, or actually drive -- through-drive. I understand that it's somewhere near the West Wing, which means it's either in this corridor, or this one here. The West Wing is right here.
KAGAN: I know you are reticent -- you can only go so far in these situations, in talking about what exactly happens, but in a situation like this, where a dog would have alerted, not once, but twice, to a possible explosive device or substance in a car, what is the common procedure?
ELLISON: You will probably need to know that early in the morning, at least five days a week, often six, there is a public tour of the White House. Every morning prior to the public tour or any other activity that's to be had in the White House, it's not uncommon for uniform division personnel who have dogs to canvass the grounds, north and front; they will even canvass public areas of the White House, those that are subject to the tour, to make sure that there are no explosives, there is nothing unusual there.
Following such events, a similar search of the grounds and public access areas are also conducted. It's not uncommon to have periodic searches...
KAGAN: Hold on one second. We just want to explain to our viewers what they're seeing on our screen right now. Apparently, Secret Service agents were able to go and take pictures underneath the car and under the hood of the car, and they have since closed both the door and the hood of the car.
Just one bit of information: Our John King points out it's on the driveway on the left side of the screen where the car is parked at this point.
So I'm sorry to interrupt -- but you were saying it's not unusual...
ELLISON: It's not uncommon -- in fact, it's probably common practice that periodically -- and I don't know how often it's done, but I would think no less than hourly -- a uniform division K-9 unit will patrol and actually scan any vehicles, any unusual package, or whatever, in this area and all other areas that are public or nonpublic access. I would think that that's how the vehicle was discovered to have something in it that caused the dog to trigger.
When that happens, of course, a stage of alert goes into effect, and more than likely, the agents are made aware of what's going on -- all uniform division personnel are made aware of what's going -- the grounds, in fact, are closed. If there's public access -- i.e., a tour or anything else going on inside the house -- the tour is immediately ended; those people are evacuated. All nonessentials are evacuated. Anyone working in the area would then -- well, who knows what footage, but within proximity of where suspicious package or item might be found -- be evacuated or moved into an area that would otherwise be considered safe. And of course, bomb explosive units would be called in, and everybody else would get out of way.
So far, as this progresses, it looks more and more like this is turning to be a false alert. We haven't confirmed that yet, but it does looks like they're closer and closer to the car and letting down their guard just a bit. John King was talking a little bit earlier about what happens after an event like this. If it does turn out that a dog did give a false alert, did signal improperly, what kind of evaluation takes place after an event like this, to learn from it?
ELLISON: Well, a number of different things occur, one having to do with the training of the animal to make sure that false hits don't happen. But so many substances contain elements of explosives, or they have the same scent that an element of an explosive would have, until it's tough for dogs not to hit on or to make false hits. I think, from the service's perspective, the service would rather have the dog hit on something in a fashion that's not realistic than not hit at all.
KAGAN: Than to miss.
ELLISON: But the dogs are trained repeatedly. In fact, the dogs are trained and rotated in and out of circulation so that the dogs don't become complacent. So all kind of training goes into effect.
As it relates on the car on the grounds and the next level of response, in effect, what would happen is that an order would probably go out to the occupants of the White House, those who work and live there every day, that things are back to normal. If nothing unusual is found in the car, then, indeed, they will go back to performing whatever they do in a fashion that's not out of the ordinary.
KAGAN: Dwight, we're going to have you stand by. We're getting more information about this.
FRAZIER: As we look at these pictures now of more and more security officers surrounding the car, we're going to hear on the telephone from Ted Barrett, who is our producer on Capitol Hill. We were under the impression he could give us information, at least coming up in a couple of moments, about the owner of the car.
We understand now he is on the telephone and is able to give us what has been learned up on Capitol Hill about the car's owner.
Ted, are you able to hear us?
TED BARRETT, CNN PRODUCER: I sure am.
FRAZIER: What can you tell us?
BARRETT: I'm told it belongs to a policy coordinator for the House Energy and Commerce Committee who went to the White House for a morning event there on prescription drugs. She apparently drove the chairman, Bilirakis, up there for the event.
They have no idea why it took a hit from the dogs, but apparently, the only thing found inside was a bag that belongs to Mr. Bilirakis and a case of water. I'm also told it's a brand-new car; it's only three months old.
FRAZIER: Let's go back now. This was a policy coordinator working for Mr. Bilirakis?
BARRETT: Apparently, working for the Energy and Commerce Committee, who drove Mr. Bilirakis up there for this event at the White House. FRAZIER: Fill us in on the common practice of politicians to move around Washington. They don't all call for a special car. They don't all call for a sedan.
BARRETT: You know, it depends on the member. A lot of them drive in on their own. The other day I was driving down Constitution Avenue, and I had Chairman Max Baucus, who's the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, driving behind me, i noticed, and he's a very powerful member of Congress, and he's driving himself in. With other members, it's often common practice, particularly with senators, anyhow, that a staff member picks them up at their house and drives them in. Many members on the House side, anyhow, do provide their own transportation.
FRAZIER: Ted, as we're talking, we do just want to point out to our viewers -- this may not be an image you are close enough to see -- but the car itself is now being moved. That's the image. You see the car being backed down the drive, away from the White House itself and toward the security gate, which is now opening, to let it depart, presumably. And we've got that circle there to keep the viewer's eye focused on it. And people are moving now in shirtsleeves and without the kind of protective padding that they were wearing earlier.
What we can't tell is who's at the wheel of the car, that policy coordinator you mentioned, Ted, or a security officer delivering the car to another location?
BARRETT: I'm told that she has no idea why her car took a hit from the dogs, that she fully cooperated with the Secret Service, and worked it through with them.
FRAZIER: Ted, as we're talking, let's turn to John King, who's got some information.
John is waving at us from his place in the bureau and may be able fill us in a little bit -- John.
KING: Stephen, I'm holding for official confirmation. I was told just a moment ago by a Secret Service source that they expect to have an all-clear in just a matter of minutes, that they had thoroughly checked the car and that they would remove it from the ground shortly. Obviously, we saw the pictures of the car driving out of the grounds.
So everybody has now been told we can return to our offices. We have an all-clear on the scene -- which means, most of all, that Kelly and Major need to get back to work.
The Secret Service has, obviously, run through its protocol here and decided that there was nothing of a dangerous nature in the car. You saw the car driven off the complex.
We've put our viewers through this for the last little bit, and many white be wondering what it was all about. The Secret Service has very clear protocols they follow in such situations. They believe it is necessary, given the high security of the White House complex. We will certainly try to get additional details as to what it might have been in that car that the fog alerted to.
But again, we are told the all-clear has been issued. People working in the West Wing, on that north side, and the Old Executive Office Building, on the side facing the White House, are now free to go back to their offices.
And again, we should stress the president and the vice president were in the building the entire time. They're even having lunch at this moment.
KAGAN: Good for them, having lunch.
John, to you for helping our coverage
KAGAN: Also to Major Garrett, Kelly Wallace, and our own Dwight Ellison, who's here with us in the studio.
Once again, you've heard it: The Secret Service has given an all-clear to the situation we've been following for some time at the White House. A car that a dog gave an alert to, as just part of a standard search -- it alerted twice -- and they have spent some time over the last hour checking out the car with the bomb squad and other officials. And apparently, it's all clear. Through this entire thing, as John mentioned, the president and vice president have been in the White House. They were not evacuated, even though other White House staff members and members of the media were evacuated. They have stayed there; they have had lunch -- and life goes on and the work goes on at the White House.
FRAZIER: More work will continue now, Daryn, because, as Ted Barrett was telling us, this car, belonging to a policy coordinator of the House Energy Committee, contained only a bag and some bottled water.
I don't know if Ted's still on the line with us and able to fill us in on those details.
Those sound like innocuous enough events, so you wonder what triggered the interest of the guard.
Major Garrett, who's there on a daily basis, may have a sense of what these dogs are trained to sniff out, what might be giving off anything: odors, heat, or any indication that would alert them -- Major.
GARRETT: Stephen, it's an inexact science. Dogs aren't perfect, and they're trained to alert to various smells, any of which could be triggered by some of the factors you just mentioned -- heat; maybe there was something else in the car; maybe a combination of other substances, as yet unknown -- that could have triggered the dog. The dog could have just made a mistake; it could have been an error in training. But as John King and I have pointed out, when the first alert happened, Secret Service did what it always does: give the dog a second chance, and walk it around, to sort of clear its senses a little bit, to make sure it goes back a second time, and if it hits again, that's when these security precautions kick into motion. Secret Service doesn't ask itself if the dog made a mistake -- no -- two hits, that's when the security procedures go into motion.
I can tell you this room that we are in now -- 450 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- is clearing out rapidly, reporters are scurrying back to get over to the White House, to get back to work.
I would just point out to my colleague John King, John, I have been working, and I might even put in for some hazard pay, OK? I had to be evacuated.
KAGAN: How about that? I think John has also moved on to other work, Major, and perhaps, since he's in the bureau today, he owes you and Kelly a lunch. You stand by there.
Let's bring back in our security expert, Dwight Ellison, who, as you mentioned before, is a former Secret Service agent himself and now head of security here with us, at Turner Broadcasting.
Dwight, again, in the aftermath here, what happens to the dog in this situation? Is this dog in the doghouse, so to speak, for the false alert?
ELLISON: I doubt it very seriously. The dog, again, is, typically, trained to alert on any number of different substances. Usually, a dog is trained to hit on or to alert on drugs. Some are trained to alert on drugs and explosives. Some are trained to alert on explosives only. So a good bit of what's not known right now will depend how the dog was trained. My best guess would be that the dog alerted properly, that something was in the car, or something had been in the car, or someone had touched the car who had had a substance on his or her hands or in her purse. It's unusual for a dog to alert in these circumstances, twice falsely.
KAGAN: Very good. And as you pointed out earlier in our coverage, it's better to have a false alert from the dog than to have the dog miss.
We'll get back to you in a second.
Stephen has John King.
FRAZIER: With some sense of postmortem gets conducted -- John, is that right?
KING: Steve, I just spoke once again to Jim Mackin, the Secret Service spokesman. He of course confirms this all-clear has been issued, everyone is free to go back to work, and the car has been removed from the grounds. He says, in the moments after this all- clear has been issued, he has no direct information yet, from the Technical Services Division, which encompasses the Secret Service bomb squad, as to just what it might have been. But they will now go into a postmortem, a series of meetings in which they discuss what was in the car, what it might have been, and the observations of the individuals that went and checked that car out, as we saw over the past several minutes. Mr. Mackin is saying, though, that now everyone is free to go back to work, and the Secret Service will get back about this.
Just to follow up quickly on a point just being made, we are told that the dog that alerted twice to this was trained only to sniff for explosives. So the question is what was in the vehicle? Again, the Secret Service is saying it could be anything from, say, a can of spare gasoline to an explosive flare -- or, as our security expert has noted, perhaps something was in the car previously that's no longer in the car. These are well-trained dogs, and the Secret Service conducting it's protocol.
And now you see from all the bodies moving about there people are getting back to routine business at the White House.
FRAZIER: Before we let you go, John, let's go back to that long shot from across Lafayette Park, which lets us see, in a rare moment of candor that we don't often have, the fact that there are people stationed on the roof of the White House, usually at all times.
KING: People on the roof of the White House if there is a high security alert; if the president is outside around the complex; and always prepared to be on the roof, if necessary, if the president is in the complex. There are viewers, people with binoculars looking around for unusual activity. And again, we don't discuss much of what we know about security arrangements, but they are there, if necessary, to patrol the grounds on the roof as well as on the ground.
FRAZIER: It was easy to see them, John, when they were moving. Let me just point out for the viewers' sake, if you follow the eye upwards from the last column on the left on the portico, you're on the roof and there are a couple of chimneys. Just behind there, you can see two individuals standing and talking to each other. I don't know, John, if that's visible to you.
KING: I can see them. It's, let's say, the most high-priced sundeck in Washington.
FRAZIER: Let's go to Daryn now.
KAGAN: As you mentioned, business is getting back to usual at the White House, John. That includes, as you can see at the bottom of your screen, the regular daily White House news briefing that is scheduled to take place at 1:00 p.m.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com