T&M's Senior VP of Executive Protection on Trump's Inauguration Day

An Interview with Joe Russo, T&M's Senior Vice President of  Executive Protection, on President-elect Donald J. Trump's Inauguration Day

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As a former United States Secret Service (USSS) Special Agent, you were in Washington DC assigned to protect Vice President Al Gore when President Bill Clinton assumed office in January 1993. Can you speak a little bit about what Inauguration Day looks like from the perspective of a USSS member? What are the major events of the day that require protection?

Inauguration Day is planned a year in advance, if not more, and both the Inauguration ceremony and the Inaugural Parade pose immense security challenges for the USSS. The President-elect makes his Inaugural Address in open air on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, which creates many challenges from a protection perspective. Then, during the Inaugural Parade, while the President will ride in an armored vehicle, he traditionally will step out of the vehicle and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, something that is always very concerning for the USSS.  In addition to the President’s exposure, the Parade is all the more difficult to secure because there are tall buildings and high ground concerns along the entire parade route. There are also thousands of people standing along the parade route, and everyone along the route needs to be screened. This requires a massive amount of manpower and coordination between the USSS and many other agencies.

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Do both the President and Vice President participate in the Inaugural Parade? What about their family members?

Yes. Both the President and the Vice President walk in the Parade, usually with at least their spouses. Traditionally, the children will be on the Parade route as well. It is usually the whole family.    

Does the USSS ever tell a newly inaugurated President that he can’t step out of the motorcade?

No.  During the Inaugural Parade the USSS fully expects the President will step out and they have to be prepared for that.  Unless some adverse intelligence has been developed that would prompt the USSS to recommend remaining in the armored vehicle, the President will almost always exit the limo.  Obviously, they’d prefer that the President remain in the limo for security reasons, but it is understood and expected that the President will walk. You will notice, however, that the armored vehicle remains close by the President with the doors open and agents on either side at all times to provide cover and evacuation, if necessary.

What about the President and Vice President’s families? Do they arrive in the motorcade as well? Do they also step out?

Yes. This is actually a joint-motorcade. The Vice President usually walks either with the President or behind him with his own family. The cars will stay lined up next to them as the two walk the parade route. The President’s limo will be lined up next to him and his family as they walk and the same will be true for the Vice President and his family. That is why it is so important to secure the area during the event. You have both the President and Vice President out there together, which does not happen too frequently. 

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What other events require USSS coverage on Inauguration Day?

In addition to the Address and Parade, USSS covers other major events throughout the day.  For instance, when I was in Washington D.C. for the Inauguration of President Clinton in January 1993, the first event I covered took place at a church across the street from the White House where both President Clinton and Vice President Gore attended 7:00am church services prior to the Inauguration proceedings.

As many people know, after the Inauguration Parade concludes, the newly inaugurated President and Vice President attend inaugural balls. Across the city of Washington, DC there are approximately 10 locations, usually big arenas or halls, where inaugural balls will be hosted. Attendance at these balls is usually choreographed so that the President attends some, the Vice President others, and some they will both attend at different times. All guests attending these events also get screened upon entry by the USSS.

Who typically hosts the inaugural balls?

The inaugural balls are balls held to celebrate the start of a new presidential term. There are both official balls, planned and sanctioned by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and unofficial balls given by state societies, businesses and private organizations.  

Usually the state society hosted balls have themes. So, Texas might have an inaugural ball with a country western theme, complete with a country western performer, Texas cuisine and people dressed in the theme. It is pretty interesting.

Do the guests also get screened before entering these balls?

Yes. It is just like any other presidential event. Everyone has to go through screening to enter.

President-elect Donald Trump has elicited strong feelings from members of the American public. Will this warrant unique treatment from a protection perspective?

President Trump’s protection plan will really not be unique and will be intelligence driven. The USSS is prepared for all scenarios and will take all necessary precautions to ensure a safe and secure environment. So there is really nothing different that the USSS will do for President-elect Trump. Obviously he is perceived as controversial by some, but from a security perspective, it doesn’t really change anything. Most of the elements that go into planning Inauguration Day are redundant; for example, the location and route of the Inaugural Parade is the same each time, so while the USSS may fine-tune the security plan, truthfully it’s a plan that pretty much remains consistent with years past.

What about the protests that are scheduled to happen on that day? What impact will they have?

There are always protests and demonstrations. Similar to here in New York City, Washington, D.C. has certain areas that are designated as demonstration areas. Also similar to New York City, protestors are required to apply for permits and are restricted both in location and the things they can do while protesting. Washington, D.C. is very strict with its permitting, and spontaneous demonstrations won’t be an issue because they will not be allowed anywhere near the Capitol or the Parade route.

Do you think the current international climate, with terrorist acts on the rise, will have an impact on this day?

I would think so. While the plan stays fairly consistent for the Inauguration and the Parade route, it is adjusted based on the current threat climate. The USSS will have considerations such as inner and outer perimeter expansion, explosive detection screening locations, etc. Over the years, the USSS has probably pushed the perimeter out a bit and the process for determining threats has certainly become a lot more complex, but again, I think the USSS prepares for everything. 

In reality, the entire day is a huge undertaking for the USSS. Months and months of planning go into it and, much like the United Nations General Assembly here in New York City, the USSS brings in several hundred agents from offices around the country in support of this mission.

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