- - Monday, May 24, 2021

Carol Leonnig’s new book on the Secret Service claims that former President Trump set back the agency’s recovery from years of mismanagement, embarrassing incidents and scandal.

In fact, it was just the opposite. 

To support the slam on Mr. Trump, the book “Zero Fail” focuses on the intrusion at the White House on March 10, 2017 by Jonathan Tran. Tran was able to roam around White House grounds and peer into windows along the East Wing of the White House carrying two cans of pepper spray before he was apprehended by a Secret Service uniformed officer.

But Tran’s intrusion, which happened just two months after Mr. Trump took office, occurred when Joseph Clancy, a Secret Service director appointed by President Obama, was still in charge.

Ms. Leonnig ignores that clear fact and uses anonymous quotes and the fact that Mr. Trump told reporters the agency had done a “fantastic job” in eventually apprehending Tran to claim that Mr. Trump reversed efforts to reform the agency.



In fact, according to my sources, the two Secret Service directors subsequently appointed by Mr. Trump, Randolph Alles, a former Marine major general, and James M. Murray, an agency veteran, tightened up the agency. They are responsible for the fact that no embarrassing incidents of any consequence have taken place since the 2017 Tran intrusion, the definitive test of the agency’s effectiveness.

Indeed, rather than setting back the agency’s recovery from a disastrous past, Mr. Trump turned the agency around.

The Tran intrusion that occurred under Mr. Clancy’s leadership illustrates just how far the Secret Service had fallen under directors appointed by Mr. Obama. According to a July 7, 2017 Secret Service inspection report that I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Secret Service uniformed officers ignored multiple alarms triggered by Tran’s intrusion after he jumped a White House fence just before midnight.

After one such alarm activation, an officer transmitted, “Nothing seen … nothing seen.” Another officer said he believed Tran was a member of the White House staff or another uniformed officer “based on his clothing and mannerisms.” He transmitted, “Nothing seen, except an individual looks like they’re outside [the White House] and may have walked up the roadway.” Yet another officer transmitted after another alarm sounded, “Nothing seen.”

As I wrote in my book “The First Family Detail,” Mr. Clancy represented everything that was wrong with the agency. Mr. Clancy stonewalled at a House Judiciary Committee hearing when asked whether anyone in the Secret Service would be held accountable for making false statements about Omar J. Gonzalez’s September 2014 intrusion at the White House.

Even though the Secret Service knew immediately that Gonzalez had penetrated the White House and was armed with a knife, Mr. Clancy insisted that the agency did not intentionally issue falsehoods when it told the press that Gonzalez had been stopped at the door and was unarmed. When asked how he knew the untruths were not intentional, Mr. Clancy admitted he did not know how or why the false statements were made.

A Pulitzer Prize winner, Ms. Leonnig did a masterful job as a Washington Post reporter exposing some of the agency’s flaws. The exposes paralleled my reporting on the agency’s shocking weaknesses going back to 2007, including revealing in April 2012 that 12 Secret Service agents had been sent home from Cartagena during a visit by President Obama because they had been seeing prostitutes.

But Ms. Leonnig also has an agenda. A recent example was her story in The Post headlined, “The $3,000-a-month toilet for the Ivanka Trump/Jared Kushner Secret Service detail.” The story, written with two other reporters, gave the impression that agents merely wanted to use the facilities occasionally. In fact, since they guarded the Kushners 24 hours a day, agents would have been traipsing through their house in the pricey Kalorama section of Washington at all hours of the night if the Secret Service had not rented a basement studio apartment with a bathroom from a neighbor. 

The Jan. 14 story said agents were “instructed” not to use the Kushners’ bathrooms, falsely giving the impression that the Kushners made the decision to exclude agents from their bathrooms, when in fact the Secret Service made the routine decision.

Moreover, the story never mentioned that the Secret Service paid Joe Biden — not a neighbor — a total of $171,600 over six years to rent his small cottage near his home in Greenville, Del., when he was vice president.

The omission was no accident, since Ms. Leonnig was aware of the payments to Mr. Biden. Back on Feb. 7, 2020, Ms. Leonnig and two other reporters wrote in The Post that the Secret Service had paid $171,600 to rent Mr. Biden’s cottage.

Regardless of the character flaws they may see in the officials they protect, Secret Service agents are sworn to protect the president at risk to their own lives. FBI agents tend to admire Secret Service agents more than they do any other law enforcement officers. 

Secret Service agents deserve an honest appraisal of their weaknesses and many triumphs. The “Zero Fail” version is anything but.

• Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of “The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.”

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