Cocaine discovered at the White House was left in an area frequently used by visitors on tours — and not while President Joe Biden and his family were on the premises, officials said Wednesday.
The White House sought to get the highly unusual story under control as details emerged of the drug’s discovery Sunday in one of the most carefully guarded buildings in the world.
Initial reports were of a white powder, sparking fears of the kind of episode regularly occurring in official Washington buildings where unidentified powders found during searches or received in the mail are treated as potential chemical attacks.
This prompted a brief evacuation. But an entirely new set of alarms went off when preliminary analysis by technicians from the city’s fire department determined the substance was actually cocaine.
On Wednesday, the US Secret Service, which protects the presidential mansion, announced it “just confirmed that substance found was cocaine and our investigation is ongoing.”
Biden has made a priority of restoring traditional decorum to the White House after the Donald Trump years, which included reports that the Republican president had a habit of flushing documents down toilets.
However, the 80-year-old Democrat has been dogged by salacious reporting over his son Hunter’s troubled private life, not least the trained lawyer’s well-documented battle with severe drug addiction.
The cocaine revelation immediately sparked unsubstantiated speculation in right-wing circles that the recovering drug user was somehow responsible.
Trump himself jumped on the bandwagon Wednesday with a typically rambling, insult-laden message that included: “Does anybody really believe that the COCAINE found in the West Wing of the White House, very close to the Oval Office, is for the use of anyone other than Hunter & Joe Biden?”
– Bidens were away –
Reflecting the furore, reporters at a meeting between Biden and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson mostly skipped asking questions on NATO and geopolitics for unsuccessful attempts to query the president on his position regarding the cocaine.
In an attempt to put an end to the gossip, the White House made clear that circumstantial evidence, at least, points to a visitor being responsible, not anyone connected to the Bidens.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the narcotic had been found in an area routinely used by outsiders invited by White House staffers on tours of the West Wing, which includes the Oval Office.
Before entering the sensitive areas of the complex, visitors are asked to leave cellphones behind in lockers, which is where the narcotic was reportedly found.
This was “a heavily traveled area where many White House West Wing… visitors come through,” Jean-Pierre said. Such tours took place last Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Biden’s chief spokeswoman then emphasized that the first family was not around at the time.
“The president, the first lady and their family were not here over the weekend,” she said. “They left on Friday and returned just yesterday.”
Jean-Pierre deflected further questions, saying “we have confidence that the Secret Service is going to get to the bottom of this.”
But she did say that Biden had been briefed and underlined that anyone working at the White House is subject “to rigorous guidelines that include drug testing.”
“Certainly we take that very seriously,” she said.