Study backs closing Pennsylvania Ave.


WASHINGTON -- A controversial proposal to tighten White House security is making the Clinton administration feel more vulnerable politically.

A draft of the soon-to-be-released security study calls for closing Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicles in front of the president's home, CNN reported yesterday. The idea sent President Clinton officials ducking for cover.

"I'd refer you over to the Treasury Department," said Michael McCurry, the White House press secretary. But Treasury officials had "no comment."

Treasury, which includes the U.S. Secret Service, has ordered a comprehensive review of presidential safety amid a rash of security breaches. Between September and December of last year, there were three shootings around the White House and a small plane crash-landed on the South Lawn.

The full Treasury report is expected to be completed later this month. A push for a pedestrian mall in front of the Executive Mansion has long been anticipated. Security experts have cited concerns about a possible terrorist attack by a truck or car filled with explosives.

The Secret Service tried to convince Congress to close off Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicles in 1985, but the suggestion set off an outcry against the "imperial" White House. The idea was dropped.

President Clinton has brushed off the series of incidents last fall. As for the pedestrian mall, his senior adviser George Stephanopoulos has said, "I don't think he'd like to do that."

Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff, has also been cautious about new restrictions.

"You don't want to turn the White House of the United States of America into a fortress," he said after a knife-wielding homeless man was shot Dec. 20 by a policeman in front of the White House.

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