It’s never easy for a new president to transition into his security bubble, but Donald Trump comes with unconventional protection challenges — including his active Twitter life — that are testing the Secret Service in unpleasant and costly ways.
Trump’s free-flowing tweets have invited more threats than his security detail can keep pace to investigate. On top of that, he’s been telegraphing his movements for the bad guys by establishing regular travel patterns in his first 100 days in office. And his very famous family is jetting around the world, draining the resources of a bureau still gasping from the frenzied pace of the 2016 campaign.
All presidents live in a target-rich environment — agents often talk of mentally-ill people approaching the White House gates making threats against long-gone leaders like Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan. But law enforcement experts say the new Republican president has particularly upped his exposure levels through Twitter, with the missives emanating from his phone giving the masses the impression they can correspond directly with Trump.
“The Twitter thing is creating a lot of hassles,” said Dan Bongino, a former protective detail agent for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “It’s generated a tidal wave of threats that the Secret Service can’t ignore.”
Bongino, who has written a book on the Secret Service’s challenges in protecting Trump that’s scheduled for publication later this summer, said the Secret Service is ill-equipped to make its way through all the social media threats. It can’t tell Trump to stop tweeting. And it also is still haunted by the example of Sara Jane Moore, a woman who attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975 months after the Secret Service evaluated her but found she wasn’t a threat.
“It’s an arithmetic impossibility to interview every single person who sends a threat. It’s not possible,” he said. “By necessity they have to triage what’s credible and what’s not and it’s tough to do by just looking at a 140-character tweet.”
Another big challenge in protecting Trump — codenamed “Mogul” to commemorate his billionaire business background — starts with the way he’s been traveling around the country. While the president has managed to keep hotel costs down by spending all his nights since inauguration at either the White House or his South Florida seaside retreat, it’s the recurring weekend trips to his private Mar-a-Lago club that are giving current and former Secret Service agents some pause.
“I used to joke if we don’t know where we’re going then the jackal doesn’t either,” Bongino said. “Patterns always hurt.”