A Former Secret Service Agent's View of the Alleged Trump Tantrum | Opinion

The testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson at the Jan. 6 hearings on Capitol Hill created quite a stir.

Her allegation is that former President Donald Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol on that day, against Secret Service advisement and, when his request was denied, tried to grab the steering wheel of the Beast (the presidential limo), while cursing and then lunging toward his Secret Service detail leader, Robert Engel.

Upon hearing her testimony, my first question was, "Did she personally witness the event?"

She subsequently testified she did not, that her claim was hearsay, a description of events told to her by another individual. The origin of the information mattered to me because, from my experience, actions like this would be outliers when it comes to protecting presidents. As a former Secret Service special agent, I have never experienced nor heard of any similar circumstance.

Before judging the credibility of Hutchinson's statement, we must first allow time for anyone who actually witnessed the event firsthand to counter, clarify, or corroborate. Regardless, the claim itself shines a light on something remarkable.

If these allegations hold true, then the Secret Service has once again lived up to its ideals. As has always been my experience, the Service did not and does not air the dirty laundry of its protectees — presidents or otherwise. As the agency's primary mission is human protection, it must always maintain a tight ring of security around those it protects, which requires being in constant close proximity to them. In response, protectees must continue to work, communicate, and act while being surrounded by agents without concern that what they do or say will travel beyond their protective bubble. This unwritten pact allows both the Service and their protectees to co-exist. Any breach in this agreement leads to devastating consequences.

Cassidy Hutchinson Testifies
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifies during the sixth hearing by the House Select Committee on the January 6th insurrection in the Cannon House Office Building on June 28, 2022, in Washington, DC. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

On the other hand, if the allegations are false, the Service may allow members of Trump's former presidential protection detail to testify, which has been rumored since Hutchinson's testimony. Historically, this is not something they revel in doing, as it runs counter to their oath of secrecy. In fact, when former President Bill Clinton was facing impeachment due to his sexual relations with then-intern Monica Lewinsky, members of his protection detail were asked to testify about their knowledge of the events. The Service pushed back, saying that doing so would jeopardize their overall mission.

The Secret Service works very hard to build rapport with their designated protectees, especially the president of the United States. It's a relationship built on mutual trust and respect — without it your mission is compromised.

Are their times where the Service will step in and say "no" to a president – as in the scenario described by Ms. Hutchinson? Absolutely. Usually, though, the Service will try to compromise. In fact, they are great negotiators when it comes to working with staff, various administrations, and foreign governments. Agents try to acquiesce to the majority of requests while maintaining security and safety. So, a hard "no" is rarely given.

There are instances where you may have a protectee — and not just a president, but first ladies, first children, cabinet members, or even visiting heads of state — who may not be as keen to listen. This can be a problem if not addressed. Because they are not the experts when it comes to protection, their assessments tend to be emotional, heavily influenced by self-interests and political agendas.

Thus, it's important to make sure that their certainty or overconfidence in themselves is not erroneously taken into consideration when it comes to security. Just as the Service does not cross into the lane of politics, nor should a protectee cross into the lane of protection.

It is important to say that whoever the detail leader is also plays a role in this relationship. If you have an assertive and grounded detail leader — who has no issue speaking out and saying "no" — that's good.

In keeping with this scenario, it would be highly dangerous to insert the president into such a chaotic environment as the riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021. A handful of agents versus a mob like that? The odds are not good. How can you maintain a perimeter of security? And if that perimeter is broken, how would you stave off all those people? What if the mob turns violent, as this one did. Would you be willing to engage the rioters and potentially use deadly force to keep the protectee safe? They are still civilians.

You have to think several steps ahead, because everyone's safety matters — not just the president's.

When I did security advances, I always had two plans laid out. The protection and evacuation of the president, but also the protection and safety of the public. The president is a high value target, so when you introduce his presence to any event, you are exposing the public to an escalated level of vulnerability, as well. Just their immediate proximity to the president increases their own threat exposure.

The Service is not there to aimlessly follow and go along with the protectee's wishes. They are there to think. Assess. Make command decisions. Protect the life of the president. And also maintain a safe and secure environment for the public.

And if dropping a "no" every once in a while is needed, then it must be done. In fact, I would argue that it should be done more. As an agent, you are there to preserve human life — all human life — and your decisions must reflect that.

Evy Poumpouras is a former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service and author of the best-selling book Becoming Bulletproof: Protect Yourself, Read People, Influence Situations, and Live Fearlessly. She frequently appears on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, and ABC.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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