The private team Trump’s picked clearly serves the man, not the office or country.
The dynamic between presidential candidates, president-elects, inaugurated presidents and their security teams is a complicated one. But whatever the circumstances were during the campaign, the candidate normally sheds all private security in favor of a Secrete Service detail, and none have ever maintained private security in the White House following their inauguration.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that, Donald Trump, whose campaign was wrought with violence, is breaking from tradition to exercise more control and influence over his security team as he moves closer the White House. As we saw on the campaign trail, Trump’s security wasn’t simply tasked with keeping the candidate safe, but also quelling any vocal dissent or criticism that happened to take place in the same room Trump happened to occupy.
Yesterday, Politico ran a remarkably in-depth feature on traditional practices, Trump’s non-traditional practices, and what the deviation means now and going forward. It’s a fascinating read not just on the historic relationship between politicians and their details, but also the bastardization of private security as a manner of shielding oneself from criticism or scrutiny, as Trump has repeatedly done:
What the whole issue boils down to is that the Secret Service has a clear, public, and longstanding objective in their duties. They also have a training and vetting program that ensures those tasked with that objective are qualified to do so.
Trump’s private security team, a mishmash of independent contractors and part-time details led by Keith Schiller (a retired NYPD cop and Navy vet who has been working for Trump since 1999, rising to become his head of security in recent years) has no clear objective to the American people, the presidency, nor the Secret Service.
They exist only to serve the man who cuts their checks, the person and businessman Donald Trump. Complicating matters further is Trump’s outspoken and blustery presence which could put a bigger target on him from attackers than any president before him.
Here’s a video conversation with Schiller, made last January:
To that end, it’s being reported that Trump is planning on keeping elements, if not all, of his security team in place after taking residence in the White House. This will inevitably lead to an awkward, confusing, and dangerous division of duties in daily operations, to say nothing of a real threat to the office. For instance, federal law prohibits anyone other than law enforcement personnel from bringing weapons into federal buildings, including the White House.
Despite having earned Trump’s trust, and boasting an impressive resume in personal protection, one source from inside the Secret Service said based on his study of Schiller’s work that it looked like Trump’s man was “JV trying to keep up in a varsity game.”
One argument that could be used in favor of booting the private security – the added cost to taxpayers – seems to be a non-issue as it’s Trump’s campaign and businesses that have footed the bill for the detail thus far. That said, the fact that the NYPD is now pushing for the federal government to cover some of the reported $35 million cost in securing Trump Tower suggests that Trump isn’t very concerned with compromising his lifestyle to save taxpeyers (at any level) money.
This issue, alongside other petty squabbles over the president’s place of residence and the condition of Air Force One, reminds us of something that many Trump detractors saw coming a mile away – Right or wrong, when the man is president, there aren’t going to be many people in a position to challenge his unorthodox and self-serving requests. Matters like these are contained to the executive branch, of which he is the head, so checks and balances don’t really apply. As Jonathan Wackrow, a Secret Service veteran puts it, “What are they going to do: pick a fight with the president-elect and his advisers? That’s not a way to start a romance.”
It’s unclear how this is going to play out, but it’s certain that Donald Trump isn’t going to act in anyone’s interest but his own unless he’s forced to.