An Interview with Joe Russo, T&M's Senior Vice President of Executive Protection, on Presidential Travel
Presidents travel often, both within and outside of the United States. Who handles the security in the air and on the ground?
No matter where in the world the President travels, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps handle all air travel and the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) takes care of all ground travel.
Does that apply to the President’s family as well?
Yes. Both the President and Vice President are entitled to U.S. Air Force/U.S. Marine Corps support for air transportation. The President travels on Air Force 1 and the Vice President travels on Air Force 2.
Interestingly, when I was in Washington D.C. protecting Vice President Gore in 1993, we learned that his Air Force 2 aircraft was actually the former Air Force 1 plane that had transported President Kennedy’s body back to Washington from Texas. That became a very historical aircraft and I understand it is now in a museum.
What about family member travel? Are special planes used to transport family members of the President and Vice President when they are traveling without them?
There are a fleet of smaller jets that the U.S. Air Force maintains for other protectee-designated travel. Often times the First Lady and other family members will travel in these smaller aircraft. These aircraft are more maneuverable and have clearance to land at many airports around the country and the world due to their smaller size.
The same applies for the Vice President’s family members.
Can a family member refuse USSS protection?
When it comes to the President’s/Vice President’s families, traditionally, they cannot decline protection. However, I do recall when I was assigned to the Vice Presidential Protective Division there were rare occasions when Mrs. Gore declined protection while doing certain personal things. But in any event, the USSS has to make a determination, in consultation with the family member, about whether declining protection is the prudent decision.
President Trump has his own plane and has stated that he will continue to use it for transportation while in office. What impact will this have on his security?
I don’t think he will be permitted to use his own plane. The President is mandated to be on U.S. Air Force /U.S. Marine Corps aircraft. Refusing to use them would be unprecedented.
Does the USSS have preferred hotels at various presidential destinations?
The USSS will certainly have preferences based on safety and security but, for the most part, the POTUS staff will usually identify their initial choices. For example, for many years the President traditionally stayed at the Waldorf Astoria when visiting New York City. However, in 2014 that hotel was acquired by a Chinese company and, subsequently, during President Obama’s last few visits to NYC he no longer stayed there. He relocated to the Lotte New York Palace Hotel. I recall President Reagan used to stay at The Plaza Hotel during his visits to NYC back in the 80’s. So, while there are some consistencies regarding presidential RON sites, they can change over time based on many factors.
The Waldorf Astoria was an excellent option as an RON site based on the available covered arrival area known as “The Well.” It presents a very secure environment for many reasons. Numerous high-level Heads of State consistently use the Waldorf as their RON site during the United Nations General Assembly.
Will President Trump be ‘allowed’ to stay at his own hotels during official presidential business?
From a USSS perspective it doesn’t really matter because the security measures and precautions taken will be the same regardless of the hotel. I know that this has been in the news a lot lately, but I think those concerns stem more from political and appearance issues than security concerns. From a USSS perspective, the President’s staff may make suggestions to the USSS regarding their hotel preferences and then adjustments are made to accommodate that choice. The USSS will obviously conduct a survey of the building and make a decision on whether it is a prudent choice for remaining overnight (RON)., Whether or not it is a Trump-owned hotel has no bearing to the USSS and their planning.