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Secret Service probes how a small bag of cocaine got into the White House

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Because of incorrect information from a Secret Service spokesman, we incorrectly say in this story that the cocaine was found in the West Wing lobby. In fact, it was found in a different White House lobby — one that is outside the Situation Room on a lower level. Like the West Wing lobby, this lobby is frequented by visitors on nights and weekends on staff-led tours when the president isn't in the Oval Office.]

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

The U.S. Secret Service is investigating how a small bag of cocaine found its way into the West Wing of the White House. At one point over the weekend, before they knew what the white powdery substance was, the White House went into lockdown, and the fire department was called in. Still, it raises a lot of questions. So we've brought in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with more. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: What exactly did they find? And how is the White House reacting?

KEITH: It was what is known as a dime bag of cocaine. And the Secret Service confirmed to me that testing on the powder found that it was, in fact, cocaine. In Washington, there's still a lot of nervousness around white powder because of the anthrax attacks in the early 2000s. But in this case, it really was just drugs, which does open up other issues, like how did cocaine get onto the White House grounds? Does the security posture need to change, and what might the consequences be? White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked nearly two dozen questions about it at the briefing yesterday, which arguably was more questions than it needed, especially since she stuck to this one talking point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: It is under investigation by the Secret Service. This is in their purview. And so we're going to allow certainly the investigation to continue.

KEITH: She did also note that it was discovered in a busy part of the White House.

SCHMITZ: So where was it found?

KEITH: Well, a spokesman for the Secret Service, Anthony Guglielmi, told me that the cocaine was found in the West Wing lobby, and that's a room just past the Marine at the West Wing entrance. And it really does get a lot of foot traffic. People who work in the White House can bring their friends and family and special guests in for tours that go through there on the weekends and evenings when the president isn't in the Oval Office. That's one of the perks of the job.

SCHMITZ: So the investigation continues. What are the chances they find the person responsible for bringing the cocaine to the White House?

KEITH: Guglielmi said they are in the early stages of this investigation and still trying to figure out whether it will even be possible to identify which visitor or staffer left their stash at the White House. But Jean-Pierre did add this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEAN-PIERRE: The president and the first lady and their family were not here this weekend, as you all reported on this, and, as you also know, that they left on Friday.

KEITH: So the message was, don't look to the first family. The president's son, Hunter, has been very open in the past about his struggles in the past with cocaine. He was at Camp David over the weekend and returned to the White House with the president on Tuesday to watch the fireworks.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: July 6, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
Because of incorrect information from a Secret Service spokesman, we incorrectly say in this story that the cocaine was found in the West Wing lobby. In fact, it was found in a different White House lobby — one that is outside the Situation Room on a lower level. Like the West Wing lobby, this lobby is frequented by visitors on nights and weekends on staff-led tours when the president isn't in the Oval Office.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.