USA Politics First Look

Trump could set new precedent with private security force

In an unprecedented move, President-elect Donald Trump continues to employ a private security and intelligence team and is expected to keep some members of the team after his inauguration. 

Security personnel surround Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after a man rushed the stage during a campaign rally at the Wright Brothers Aero Hangar at Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 12.
Lisa Powell/Dayton Daily News/AP/File | Caption

President-elect Donald Trump is breaking with tradition yet again, this time by retaining his own private security force. 

In what security experts are calling an unprecedented move, Mr. Trump has continued to employ a private security and intelligence team at his post-election "thank you" rallies around the country and is expected to keep at least some members of the team after his inauguration, according to Politico. He's said to be the first president or president-elect in modern history to do so, as all others have relied solely on the Secret Service for personal security and local law enforcement for event security.

The decision has come under fire from some security experts who say that using private security personnel may be a risky move that could hurt both the president-elect and his team as well as protesters. Over the course of Trump's campaign, dozens of protesters have accused his private security personnel at rallies of racial profiling, undue force, or aggression, with three lawsuits currently pending against Trump, his campaign, or its security. Meanwhile, some Trump supporters have applauded the move as a sign of Trump's loyalty and commitment to shaking things up in Washington. 

"It’s playing with fire," Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who worked on President Obama’s protective detail during his 2012 reelection campaign, told Politico. Having a private security team working events with Secret Service, he continued, "increases the Service’s liability, it creates greater confusion and it creates greater risk."

The president-elect's campaign spent more than $1 million on private security, compared to the $360,000 spent by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission reports. While most presidential candidates typically stop using private security once they are granted Secret Service protection, Trump’s spending on private security has actually increased since he was granted Secret Service protection in November 2015. 

Trump's choice to keep his private security personnel around highlights his deep sense of loyalty, and has been applauded by supporters as a reflection of his campaign promises to bring outsiders into the White House.

"I implore you Donald to use the people you trust," writes one commenter on conservative news site Breitbart. "Our government officials have proven they can't be trusted." 

But critics see that loyalty very differently.

"The prospect of the American president retaining a personal security force that specializes in targeting dissenters is unsettling for fairly obvious reasons," writes Eric Levitz for New York Magazine. "But the move is concerning even if one stipulates that the team will be used exclusively as an anodyne adjunct to the next president’s security detail, as it illustrates the depth of Trump’s preference for loyalty over expertise. In this context, that preference may threaten Trump’s personal security; in others, it threatens our national one."

While the move has led to widespread speculation over the possible implications of a president with private security, Trump spokesman Jason Miller has said that Politico's coverage of the issue is "blowing it out of proportion," assuring a Wall Street Journal reporter that the Secret Service is primarily responsible for the president-elect's safety.  

"Of course, President-elect Trump is going to continue to be surrounded by longtime allies and advisers and in the case of Keith Schiller [Trump's director of security], someone who has been an absolute fantastic ally, both in business and on the campaign trail, someone who literally and figuratively has been there to support and defend the president-elect, obviously the main duties of protecting the president-elect and soon to be president are of course carried out by Secret Service, who does a fantastic job," Mr. Miller said.