The Unique Security Challenges of a Trump Presidency

T&M's Senior VP of Executive Protection, Joe Russo, on The Unique Security Challenges of a Trump Presidency

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We recently interviewed you on the security challenges associated with Inauguration Day. Now we want to shift gears and focus on what happens now that President Trump has been inaugurated.

aWhat are the standard U.S. Secret Service (USSS) protective security measures for a President and the family throughout the presidential term?

Security for the President while in office is completely supported by the USSS as well as other agencies such as the U.S. Air Force, etc. on a full-time basis. The rules of protection remain somewhat standard regardless of who is in office, although there may be slight adjustments based on the current security climate. For example during the transition from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama, the USSS’s focus shifted from international terrorism-based threats to more of a focus on home-grown, domestic threats due to a variety of factors relevant at the time. Obviously, the USSS monitors all threats on an on-going basis and it responds to changes in the threat climate in real-time. 

Despite ongoing adjustments, for the most part the USSS’s plan remains the same. Security is never reduced. Protective measures consistently remain at the same level or are elevated, no matter who is in office.

How does the USSS handle protection for the President’s children?

When the President’s children are in school, regardless of whether it is elementary school, middle school or high school, the USSS maintains a constant presence in/or around the facility. Even after a child goes to college, as Chelsea Clinton did while President Clinton was in office, the USSS will assign agents to remain on the campus full-time. You can expect similar coverage for the new President’s children as well. 

For the Vice President’s children, the protection differs a little. When I was working with Vice President Gore and he had children in school, we actually just dropped the children off at school and maintained a presence close by. The only time we would stay full-time at the school was when the threat level was elevated.  This, of course, may have changed over the years and a full time presence at the facilities could be standard operating procedure now.

How will this protection translate to Trump’s children? For example, Ivanka Trump has children of her own. What does that mean for the USSS?

All of President Trump’s children, including their spouses and children, will have full-time protection. Since the majority of his family is in New York, their protection will likely have to be based out of the New York field office, which will now be tasked with significant advance work and required to provide the necessary agents. It will definitely be a big challenge for the USSS to protect all of President Trump’s children and grandchildren.

In addition, as you know, Melania Trump has stated that she will continue to reside in Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan until at least the end of Barron’s school year. This separation of the First Lady and son from the President is unprecedented and will require additional levels of security and personnel here in New York City. Ms. Trump’s close-in protection detail will be an element from the Presidential Protective Division based in Washington D.C., but obviously these agents will be temporarily relocated to New York until she moves to the White House.

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What about President Trump’s ex-wives? Do former spouses ever get Secret Service protection?

No. The USSS protects Presidents, former Presidents and their spouses, unless the spouse remarries. In this particular case, for President Trump, I would think that the USSS is only going to protect his current wife Melania. I don’t think that they will have protection details assigned to his former wives.

How long does USSS protection last for Presidents once they have left office?

Traditionally, former Presidents always had protection for life, including former first ladies, even if they were widowed. For example, Nancy Reagan was protected up until the time of her death and Lady Bird Johnson had protection for many years after Lyndon Johnson passed away.

However, I believe that towards the end of President Clinton’s term, a bill was signed that limited USSS protection to Presidents to 10 years following the end of their term in office. Under this law President George W. Bush would lose his protection in 2018. But I understand that a recently passed law restores USSS lifetime protection for Presidents, which makes sense. I think that most Americans would agree that ex-Presidents should receive full-time protection after leaving office. Without USSS protection, they would easily become soft targets to various threats including, and especially, terrorism.

Generally speaking, do you think the Trump Administration will be more challenging than other administrations?

From what we have all experienced thus far during the election and the transition periods, we can probably expect that the Trump Administration will be quite dynamic and even unpredictable. This may initially be a challenge for the USSS. I think that once President Trump settles in and the USSS learns more about how he operates, familiarizes themselves with his staff’s functions,  and becomes accustomed to his schedule, etc. the USSS will definitely adapt accordingly.

To be clear, the transition to a new administration is always difficult because it requires establishing trust with the new administration. For example, when I was at the White House during the transition from the Bush/Quayle administration to the Clinton/Gore administration, there was a perception that the incoming administration viewed us as a Republican USSS, based on the 12+ years prior protecting only Republican presidents in office. In fact, it was believed by some in the new administration that the USSS was going to rotate the current agents out and bring in new agents, but that is not the way the system works.

If USSS positions do not change based on a change in leadership, how do assignments work in the USSS?

An assignment with the Presidential Protective Division or the Vice Presidential Protective Division is traditionally a 3-5 year post. Depending on where an agent is assigned at the time when a new President assumes office, it will determine how long and agent will remain in that position. It has nothing to do with who the President is or if it is the middle of election season. USSS agents don’t leave an assignment, nor are they reassigned, just because there is a change in the administration. Agents leave when their assignment time is concluded. However, it should be noted that there may be changes at the top of the USSS, with upper management positions such as the Director and/or the Special Agent in Charge or Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the Protective Divisions. Also, when President Obama left office, his former Presidential Protective Detail makeup is much smaller and consists mostly of new personnel.  I would say that the USSS as an agency is politically-neutral. It protects the Office of the President, regardless of the person elected or political party affiliation. Certainly, there are a lot of adjustments to be made with a new administration, but the responsibilities remain the same and the USSS follows the same playbook regardless of who is in office. 

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