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Secret Service chief James Murray leaving agency

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Secret Service Director James Murray is stepping down from his post as head of the storied protective service, according to a statement issued by the agency Thursday, a departure that comes at a time when the agency has been in the spotlight and the subject of dramatic congressional testimony.

Murray, who has held the job since 2019, has been looking to retire “for some time” and plans to work in the private sector, according to a senior Department of Homeland Security official with knowledge of his decision.

Murray has accepted a top security job with the California-based social media company Snapchat, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal details. Murray, a 27-year veteran of the Secret Service, filled various top roles at the agency before becoming director in May 2019. His last day will be July 30, according to the statement.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that under Murray’s leadership the Secret Service has “reinforced its stature as the preeminent protective agency in the world and has increased in sophistication and scope its investigative capabilities.”

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A statement from the Secret Service said Murray “helped the agency navigate the unique challenges presented by the historic COVID-19 pandemic” while continuing to perform “its integrated mission of providing protection to senior elected leaders and investigating crimes targeting our financial infrastructure.”

Still, the agency, best known for protecting current and former presidents and their families, has endured multiple controversies over the past decade, including a prostitution scandal, White House security missteps during the Obama administration and allegations of politicization under President Donald Trump.

Two Secret Service employees in South Korea for President Biden’s trip to Asia in May were involved in conduct that ended in a confrontation with South Korean citizens. The incident occurred while the agents were off duty, but they returned to the United States and were placed on administrative leave.

That episode occurred a month after agency leaders acknowledged that four Secret Service employees — including an agent assigned to protect first lady Jill Biden — had allegedly been hoodwinked by two men impersonating federal agents, who plied them with gifts.

In recent weeks, its agents have become central characters in the House committee investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, with sometimes explosive testimony bringing unwanted attention to the agency.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified under oath last month that she was told that Trump lashed out at his protective detail on Jan. 6, 2021, when agents would not take him to join his supporters in marching toward the Capitol, at one point lunging for the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle.

Officials have said anonymously that the Secret Service agents take issue with some of the details of Hutchinson’s account — and have said they are prepared to do so in sworn testimony — although they do not dispute the notion that Trump was angry and wanted to be taken to the Capitol.

Hutchinson also testified that Trump had complained that the Secret Service’s screening for weapons was preventing armed supporters from entering his “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse.

The Secret Service has also been part of the focus on Vice President Mike Pence, who refused requests from his detail to get into an armored car during the Jan. 6 assault. According to testimony, he was concerned that his protectors would take him away from the Capitol and prevent him from overseeing the final count of electoral college votes.

White House officials on Thursday said that there was no connection between the congressional hearings and Murray’s departure. “This has been in talks for several months — for his retirement, I believe, since April,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “So, before the January 6th hearing.”

Jean-Pierre declined to discuss a potential replacement for Murray, but when asked if Biden would name the first Black director of the service, she noted the president’s commitment to diversity.

“I’m not going to get ahead of the process, but as you know this is a president that prides himself on making sure that we have equity, that we have inclusion,” she said. “You see that up and down his administration. He wants to make sure that we have an administration that looks like America.”