Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Too Secret? The Secret Service’s Long, Troubling History of Omerta

Posted by M. C. on July 30, 2022

Before the text messages’ convenient disappearance, the agency also trashed records related to the JFK assassination.

 But we must ask ourselves: Do we have the right people — with the right skills and temperament — to perform these vital tasks

By Russ Baker
Going Deep

The conduct of the Secret Service during the January 6 Capitol attack was highly confusing, but the ongoing kerfuffle over its erratic behavior elides one consistent fact: Our modern-day Praetorian Guard has long been a problematic institution.

As I wrote last week, although the Secret Service’s actions around the JFK assassination were most egregiously suspect, the history of our elected officials’ bodyguards is riddled with scandal and incompetence. Despite this, the agency itself — with its more than $2 billion annual budget — has never been seriously investigated or called out for its failings. And it’s naive to believe that the ongoing and widening text message scandal will change this sad status quo.

In apparent violation of agency policy, as many as 10 agents on the security details of Donald Trump and Mike Pence may have sent text messages on or before the Capitol riots on January 5 and 6, 2021, only to either delete them or to have the agency conveniently “lose” them when they were requested by Congress. Only one message was turned over to the January 6 committee.

Joseph Cuffari, the Trump-appointed inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, has opened a criminal investigation, but since Cuffari may have known about the vanishing texts months before he told Congress, several top Congressional Democrats are asking him to recuse himself. Meanwhile, top agents and security officials — including Anthony Ornato, who was a top aide in the Trump White House while still carrying a Secret Service badge — have lawyered up. (Ornato is still assistant director of training at the agency, “responsible for the oversight, administration, policies, and forecasting of required training and professional development for all Secret Service personnel.”)

This is all highly suspicious, so much so that there are calls for the Biden administration to appoint an outsider to clean house. “You cannot fix this agency from within,” said CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem, an Obama-era DHS official. Even The Washington Post smells a rat. “Maybe the secret service is incompetent,” the Washington establishment’s paper of record wrote July 23, “or maybe there’s something fouler afoot.”

The text messages matter because they could reveal crucial insider details about Donald Trump’s intentions and state of mind on January 6. They could be vital to a criminal indictment and prosecution of the former president — so one easy explanation for the missing messages is that the Secret Service, which has always played favorites with the presidents it’s supposed to protect, is covering for Trump.

That’s consistent with the school of thought that the Secret Service is riddled with Trump acolytes, but the full picture is more complicated. Vice President Mike Pence’s detail, for example, apparently feared for their lives or at least their safety on January 6. Pence appears to have feared for his.

And yet, if members of the Secret Service are covering for Trump or participated in an aborted coup, how do you square that with the bizarre, disturbing, and inconsistent image of Trump trying to wrest control of the presidential limousine when his security detail told him he would not be joining the mob outside (and inside) the Capitol? (And how do we square that with the fact that Ornato himself, via Cassidy Hutchinson, was the source for that anecdote? If Ornato was part of some plot to keep Trump in power, did he have second thoughts — and if so, why?)

In an ideal situation, high-level security jobs require rigor, competency, and fearlessness. The possibility has occurred to me that one reason Trump’s protectors may have destroyed those messages is what they might have revealed about their own inadequacy for the task at hand. As well as their candid thoughts about what was happening, including Trump’s role in the chaos.

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