tv Carol Leonnig Zero Fail - The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service CSPAN April 13, 2022 10:05pm-10:59pm EDT
service. ... ... and a vice chair of the lbj foundation and on behalf of the foundation and lbj library my pleasure to welcome you here tonight. tonight we are really lucky to have with us writing a book about the secret service and our good friend ceo and founder of the texas tribune will be interviewing her tonight about this. what we know is lady bird and lyndon johnson has the highest possible steam for the secret service and doing eisenhower called them soldiers without uniform and without the last couple of decades reputation
the secret service has taken a beating i'm hoping that wei' can get down to what has happened with the service and what can be done to fix it. so now please join me in welcoming carol and evans. >> good to be with you congratulations on the book. >> thank you i'm so glad to be here with you. >> the book is great not only a great read that i learned a lot. honestly i and embarrassed i feel like i should have known more of this than i did. let me off the hook. how much of this did you know quick. >> i have i to say i really got into this by accident in 2012 i was terrible scandal really shocked. almost every time looking at a new presidency there is something new to learn sometimes it was a security debacle.
>> this was an outgrowth of your reporting from opposed to the presidential trip in south america. but what about that story struck a chord? not everything you write for f the paper has a book in it. >> the secret service story when i was drawn into this in 2122 sides of the coin means talk about the elite of the elite sunglasses but as i did more and more reporting i found out there was a lie the seriously concerning staff and then to take a bullet for the president but a lot of times they were dodging a bullet or recovering up not the secrets of the president but their own mishaps and their own earned
misconduct so they tell us everything we don't know for getting the whole story. we cann see both the visible part of the iceberg and the submerged part but in times past when there is not carol in places to get news or into praising reporters as what saved them is that there is nobody to dealing to the reporting but it's because nobody was there to tell us before. right? >> but there also was a gentlemen's agreement. and president kennedy a lot of reporters new trotting off on business trips to meet women
that were not his wife. and a lot of people knew what was happening behind the curtain and what he was doing in the swimming for at the white house while jackie was away. but the secret service agent saw something that was disconcerting because not morally but h they were judging him on a security reason and felt he was taking his life in his own hands. and then those women on the other side of the door in a hotel room. >> are to be ushered into the white house and then that kennedye story i want to be sure we get into but so to stay far back from the send to ask generally, as you say
yourself in the prologue, you didn't go into this with a conclusion about the secret service intending to prove it right with your reporting that you did go into it with a point of view shaped by 2012. >> absolutely. i thought when i dug into cartagena. i amir a digger and i convince people to talk to me and tell me their truth. and those agents that i met over and over again and then the family members and officers they had much more horrifying story to tell that was more important than boys gone wild. into cleanser guilt in the next surface secret service
they did not believe the leadership was listening to them.dn and that the agency stretched too thin. and swiss cheese right now. they can be heroes so 180 people roughly for this book were interviewed and happy were talk to you as long as you did not identify them from anonymous sources quick. >> unfortunately in this instance it was absolutely necessary. agents who are currently on duty and officers will lose their job if they speak to me
without permission. so i have to admit with great sadness there arehe agents who lost their jobs to talk to me some anonymity is crucial for them and on top of that even former agents with that backlash from the t alumni network that still wants to burnish the image of a perfect impenetrable secret service and is not willing to look out for the current team that is fighting the odds. >> especially for a paper like opposed to rely upon anonymous sources you understand the tension because so many people distrust the immediate they see anonymous sources n and their given permission not to believe that they are reading and you have to accept that. >> yes. in my reporting, it is the
beneficiary of copious documents. i can tell you down to the number of know he does and bill on —- beers because someone gave me all of the internal investigation documents. many of these agents submitted to me their calendars and schedules contemporaneous text and notes and then they were backed up again by internal documents. >> you alluded to the premise of the book the storied organization stretched and drowning in munitions with security risk and trust between rank-and-file and i would also add as we see repeatedly with outdated technology outmoded technology. a frat boy culture. a aspect thater the service has been drawn into political
matters you want to hope it is a political maybesk that's too much to ask and people hate working there like that that was. remarkable it is in a state of unprecedented peril shouldn't we all fear for the country under those circumstances leave aside them as as a practical matter their protecting the most important people clear that other shapes should we be more concerned? >> you could not have said it better. officer after officer why do they come to me or risk their careers to put it on the line? all the warning t signs k that they know from history were flaring before kennedy was killed and they are flaring now. technology, stretched too thin, if you died in
the course of me working on this project. they said they knew they were treading water and they knew they were in trouble. they knew they could not keep up. that's what agents are telling us now. >> but it has been allowed to continue. of these brave men and women the special agent and says in the book quoted as saying you have to keep them safe and this reduces so #you had one job. you have one job you have to keep the principles safe
nothing else's more important than that. >> it is so vital. >> the reason agency matters to me it is vital to the democracy. if you think that was a got punched to the country you cannot imagine the secret service. but that is the problem on top of job number one there are 40 more people the secret service protects the agency is now protecting vice president step children and grandchildren. on top of cabinet secretaries. it is a huge mission plus cybersecurity and hacking and super bowl's and olympics. every single event does not involve the president they are
still there. as one senior cabinet member told me this agency needs a refresh. and to matchup the mission with the money and the tools because right now they cannot accomplish that they are given. >> it's easy to forget at the time of abraham lincoln and then only after mckinley was assassinated the entity that it is today and initially the purpose of the secret service it was much more mundane. >> so mundane. so with the idea that there is all this counterfeit money
think of the paper floating around in the last year. there is a myth the secret service was authorized by president lincoln the day he was shot actually discuss with the secretary of treasury and launched not long after his assassination but the more presidents would be assassinated before the secret service would take over the role of guarding the principal or the person who is the leader of the free world and the reason was we are so american we don't want to royal palace the public recoiled at that and they didn't think the voting public wanted it but after mckinley was killed in upstate new york in buffalo, finally people started to say this many
presidents killed, maybe we pshould protect them. >> so many things i learned from your book and another is the service has grown so much with a $5 million budget and extraordinary growth. the first and only secret service officer to die was an assassination attempt on harry truman. i didn't even know there was an assassination attempt on harry truman. >> andnd you just mentioned the service as it expanded to protect the vice president. >> that was not part of the charge. can you imagine kamala harris at this moment without a protective details? >> now. i can't.
it took the assassination of robert kennedy for lyndon b. johnson just to announce overnight and that is a chillingng moment literally in the middle of the night calls up the director of the secret service and says i want details on every single candidate right now. candidates got protection. >> family members. the protection of the service has been and arthur brammer who shot george wallace wanted to kill nixon first. >> and he was awarded. >> and it's a good story for the secret service. he wrote in his journal he was trying to get next and but it was too tricky he was
struggling because the secret service made it too hard to get a close enough shot. did for them but kennedy's assassination made them rebuild that agency from the ground up and amazing security but it has been flipping the last couple of decades. >> i was not aware of the exceptional case study project where the analysis was done of 83 people who attacked or came close to prominent american public figures in 1949 in 1996 but that is a lot of instances of attempts more than we remember and the point made among others is that many wanted fame it wasn't about political ideology so something about the secret service's they have a much
tougher job than we even know because there are so many more attempts. >> so many. even before president obama was running for office who set the record there are thousands per month that are registered one way or another he sits on a stool and says he will kill the president but in a white supremacist chatter group somebody writes that they are planning to do. or more often a person with mental struggles or any mental health state or crisis decides the way for them to solve problems is to kill our president. >> everybody has to be taken seriously. that's the point you just don't know if they sent an e-mail is a serious threat. but a number of times we hear more agents.
more agents. more agents and a number of anecdotes in which the service itself that we need more agents. >> after all of your reporting is that the answer to a better secret service that more agents make for a better service quick. >> in some ways yes but it is too simplistic as you pointed out the nation is enormous it's gotten larger and larger we keep adding to the pile of the secret service is responsible for but on the other hand you cannot not protect the vice president and the president's family. so those duties are understandable that mission creep is enormous. the otherhe thing is technology. they are solely 1900 and in terms of what they have for tools at their disposal.
some things have been upgraded that even in 2017 with donald trump just a few months into his presidency there was another jumper incident the person got over five different fences and on the ground 15 minutes without being interrupted and then jiggled the door on the east wing to get in and wandered around nobody caught him why? because the cameras, fence line the alarms, so many parts were failing. this cannot be the most protected 18-acre compound if it's on the fritz. >> is not just about the number of agents but also a more working day problem that sometimes the people who are affected don't want them around i kept thinking to myself that protect these who refuse to be protected using the case of john kennedy which is the most extreme case of
somebody who tries to cut and run his detail and have adventures but there are other people. president johnson who just like the imposition and the purpose to have them around us to p protect them they would just as soon not be protected. >> president johnson it makes me chuckleon a little bit because he actually threat and in one time did shoot out the tire of the secret service agents follow-up car behind him in texas and he kept threatening to shoot because he said you need to get away from me i'm hunting and you are messing it up. but there is another thing in terms of them wanting these agents to be separate from jfk romantic. separate from that but they
didn't think the american public wanted a lot of secret service guards around their president they wanted to feel every man who waded into a crowd, normal joe said hello to their voters if you have a bunch of security around you with the impression and they didn't like that in a part taxpayers would be kicked off so lyndon b. johnson constantly cut the secret service budget or his detail because he thought voters didn't like it. >> or something fundamentally ridiculous would rather have alive president with to many people around him then a dead president? the job that they t did come i found that remarkable taxpayers don't like this argument i'm a little more sympathetic that we have private lives whether john
kennedy or michelle obama you want the secret service to leave us to have a private life and not be imposed. has the word secret but they do work for us so the culture of the place may be indiscretion but at the same time may reveal the secrets of the president or the first family r. >> and there are some presidents who have had better relationship with the secret service than others. the bushes had an incredible relationship with their secret service detail. treated them like family barbara bush with hot coffee and food from leftovers. even to the point of telling i detail leader she wanted him to wear her husband's hat and mittens because it was cold outside very motherly attention and welcomed but
when the clintons arrived they were not so sure about these agents looking out for them and within the first few weeks the story leaked in the papers about hillary clinton and an argument so it turns out these agents like the bushes better than us and i don't want them on the second four of our house they need to stay downstairs. >> and the relationship with the clintons and the notion of deference comes to a head when the question of whether the secret service will tell that they saw on the lewinsky matter. again hadn't occurred toec me that they are put in a position to play that kind of role maybe i knew at the time but i forgot it but your book is an extraordinary detail is such a compelling story.
let's get into some presidencies obviously the kennedy assassination at this image ofpl the secret service and everything that happened on that day and after. under the heading maybe i knew this but i forgot it or maybe i just didn't know it, i did not fully appreciate jackie kennedy blamed the secret service clicks you have her in the boxing basically foror me he had done this differently maybe that would t not have happened. that is extraordinary. >> this widow with the blood still on her pink suit is holding on to her husband's brain parts as they arrive. >> literally clutching a piece of his goal and brain. >> enhance him to a doctor when she gets into the emergency room.
you cannot put the president back together again. some doctors thought there was a chance, but not many. but she is an amazing figure and so she shares that tap on the break the agent of the limo and what she is writing with herla husband, that tap on the break in the plaza upon hearing the first shot come through is likely the treason, forgive me, that oswald was able to get that third and fatal shot that went directly into the jot and ear of the president and did result in a part of his brain splattering on the backseat.
that at least exactly as it was supposed to. >> and that heroic moment and with that trigger reflexes that is the result of their be building after they got punch. and the director who puts theverything that he has to get the money and the agents and technology and the choices are completely vindicated by the split-second decision kim mccarthy to throw his arms up and take the incoming bullets or the split-second decision
of the leader on the square outside the hilton as soon as he hear shots there is no tap the break he puts his hand on the shoulders. >> shoves them in the car lands on top of him eating his rib is broken because he has problems breathing because he was smothered in the car but he saved his life. >> hell saved his life. the agent behind him folded up the legs of the agent behind him he was on top of him so that theyia can slam the limo door shut and evacuate immediately it was like a vietnam evacuation. went so fast the agent who was driving was saying a mantra to himself on my got a hope i don't run over to me who was mccarthy.
>> chaos that day. but everybody made great decisions butt the fact he cleaned could be 11 feet from the president was a failure. that's what they did wrong. but whatea they did right overshadowed. >> i thought the reagan and bkennedy contrast that to me the interesting take away with the degree to which nixon politicized the servicehe and by my count the big grievous offenses he wanted to use the secret service because he feared kennedy is a political threat and then to disable. nixon is relying on the service to take on the number of expenses that were not legitimately renovation expenses of those properties
and also nextem and attempt you secret service members to remove protesters with the ability of americans peacefully if not loudly and against their government. and that reminded me of what happenedpp that year. >> and it reminded me of the same. there are so many very parallels just regarding the secret service so the idea that we will handle antiwar processors and anti- nixon protesters by seeking theot secret servicese on them present actions view of the not that they are protecting that these are my goons and that they
were the same at lafayette square and nobody can forget the presidents wish and the test guy. and nixon wanted to do the same he s was running for reelection he wanted to have these images of the savage protesters and that they can show the voters who would keep them safe. president nixon's back come back to reagan. >> but the book reminded me that president reagan when he was shot lost nearly half of the blood in his body. i remember being in middle president reagan was shot and hearing about it and knowing enough to know it was a big deal but at the same time never thinking that he almost died. he lost nearly half of the
blood in his body. >> it is stunning and half on —- caps off and they dealt with a lot of challenges but part of the reason that you were not aware that at the time because the secret servicece and the white house was seriously keeping then under wraps of how close he came to death. >> something you only learn later. and it was hidden and hard for them to find. >> you mentioned how things changed over the different instances in those is quoted in the time of the detail agent is said every time the services tested itt gets better so the assumption is going through jfk and then to check the security along the motorcade for sniper fire
after the assassination attempt we will change policies and after the reagan assassination now we add magnetometers all of this seems smart and normal but to a civilian i'mhi thinking of course then i think back to the capital insurrection were just a couple of months ago and then the capital police that those sectors and is such a point of controversy and it's a question of liberty as opposed to these are the leaders of our country we have to protect them so as much as we see security protocols, it's not without controversy. >> why? and the problem here and it
has friends around the capital because it looks terrible. president trump did not like the new fence design they were envisioning to prevent the jumper incidents that were so humiliating. he said it look like a prison. kennedy does not want detail agent on the back of his car when they were writing and motorcades. but flint hill will tell you they begged to be on the back of that car. >> and r had they been it may have prevented oswald from having a good shot at the president. >> 100 percent. they would've had a fighting chance to prevent his death. and as clint hill said he would have taken the bullet and gotten inn between it and the president. we don't want that but that is what they signed up for. all of the security issues when you mix them with politics and political impression youhe don't get a
pure security answer. >> there's always the tension between freedom and security. with the secret service so where did everything go wrong. and we may not have known there is any your queues on —- a new story a bad behavior by all kinds for asians. because your chapter on the obama years the wheels come off as somehow they had been on previously. [laughter] and then it seems to get worse
so there are two things going on at the same time. after the clinton presidency and then to keep agents away from him and then the abilities to secure and reduces it is the advent of the tv president you want the agents in the shot keep them a little a further away we want a strong independent president. nobody needs to be there. but also the misconduct is allowed because of the arrogance of secrecy and lack of transparency in the culture of the secret service if they can keep classified program secret than they seem to believe they can keep the weaknesses and some of their
humiliating episodes secret but they come to a head during obama is administrations episode after episode. both times. security gap and unbelievable. >> i am chronicling as i'm reading everything bad during the obama years in a certain point i just had to stop. because the volumee is too much. be extraordinary racist culture the horrible e-mails and racist jokes. remember of course obama is a special case that he is the first black president ultimately. he receives secret service protection the earliest anyone has received in the process on —- protective detail and the south america trip that was the basis and then you go into
that excruciatingly detail so you know every twist and turn and youe have the fence trooper who gets into the white house in 2014 and then what you referred to earlier had to this guy manage to escape? those who drive drunk and then for good measure and then the failed secret service application this is always been a period of a few years and it's extraordinary to me that nothing really seems to improve during that period. >> the shocker is that everyone in the obama white house throughout their hands after the jumper and followed just minutes after and an elevator guard who was allowed to get close to the president.
>> and n he actually had a weird history to suggest you don't want this person near the president. >> anybody who is not absolutely clean should not have a weapon in the near the president charged although not convicted with the crimes that involved the use of a gun. i red flag. everybody should have been screened. bottom-line. but then they ask in pressure thinking that the new leader is gonna make it all the better but when they bring back father joe the head of the obama detail somebody a great rectitude and a great coach. and they bring him back and a
big sigh of relief and things will get better. but now. things do not get better and nothing changes the status quo and one of them the highest ranking member of the presidents detail at the white house leaves drunk as a skunk and comes back onto the compound with another inebriated person to drive the government car to collect another car over a suspicious package investigation. this is not the behavior who are on their game at all times. >> you don't hear the stories and to think to even mention the bullets that pierced the residents of the white house and mrs. obama goes bananas. >> yes. if you are this first lady you
find out from the white house usher five days later the house that your children were in was shot out while you were away, it's not a good way to learn that information if you are a mom much less the first lady. >> and first of all the cost. there is a lot of cost associated with the trump tadministration things to the reporting of the post and but we findt out now that and in the trump ears so significantly more. >> in fact it was is breaking the bank there are 42 people including the president and at one point the head of the department of homeland security who ended up being that chief of staff tries to get them to give up their
detail because they are not under any kind of security threat and we don't have enough money to protect the president can we have your detail and then steve goes bananas. kellyanne conway gave up her detail she wasn't thrilled but it was the right thing to do. >> added certain point you have tot make choices. >> he wanted to remove the post. >> the underground security. >> what rise and fall's because he didn't like the fact you ran over them to make that unpleasant noise. >> so to me the thing that i suppose i should not be surprised but the president was so concerned about the look of the people around him for four years was his concern there were overweight people on security detail. i want fat guy is off of my
detail is an actual quotation from president trump he said it as if he was concerned they would not be in shape to protect himes but you cannot help to think that the president who is like the casting director for the administration and chief is thinking people who don't look the image i want them to look after you said about the hollywood image and they were banished from his detail. >> you have drawn such a beautiful through line that worries me about the service and why and wrote the book president trump takes over at a time when the services recovering and trying to rebuild. trying going to a horrific eight years. episode after episode. what does donald trump care about? to use them as on —- as a tool optics over reality he hasn't paid any attention to the
surety —- shortchange nature $30 million is necessary in spring 2017 is only been present for a few weeks the secret service makes k the emergency request because they know they cannot keep up even with the basic bare minimum because the president goes to mar-a-lago every otherad weekend that is very unusual. is notve unusual for presidents to travel back to have leisure travel that puts money in the pocket of their own company. >> and there was quite a bit of concern with the obama expenses but the very first three months of trump it seem like he would far exceed and some of that had to go to trump owned businesses with that higher than we would expect to have to pay an end up in the pockets of the trump associates. >> so back to your through
line donald trump arrives the service needs help it gets less and less with more short changed and bled dry and the optics whether or not they are fat many agents have told me they think the president misunderstood who he was talking about but those are other people that have desk jobs. whatever. the optics are more important and then t the service leadership gets to take a pass in our carter at the bigger problems deeper within. >> in the trump years separate but related. the f fact you have the first black president and the nature of the threat to the first black president and his family on the one hand on the other the kinds of rallies in the rally goers, those present real serious
challenges even for a secret service at its best even understaffed and under budget. >> director clancy who was still director my old donald trump was against hillary clinton gave an interview that it was the most chaotic campaign he's ever seen in his life and he was more careful in his language than others but agent told me they the trump the chaos candidate because he was inciting violence at his own rally and protesters arrived and would encourage the rally goers to physically attack them to say he would pay their legal bills. >> iff you get in trouble i will pay your bill. there is a horrible scene when a woman from the university is
at a kentucky convention center were the president is speaking and has come to protest the rhetoric and she is pushed around like a ragdoll on —- a ragdoll. she is black. wearing a backpack. she has a phone and is filming what is happening to her and watching it from up above is horrifying because they spit on her and call her names, racial epithets. >> and almost usher her to the ground but at trump surging. >> is the current political environment present more of a threat or the toxicity in the conspiracy theories and then worth paying attention to and a kid who shot up the white house during the obama administration to be inspired
by the alex jones movie what must it be like today to deal with everything else and now suddenly dealing with these conspiracy theory -year-old attacks or the rallies from the standpoint? >> such a wise set of worries because look at what happened january 6 nobody imagined it but nobody could have handled it other than the national guard. we cannot pretend a slightly larger capital police force could've handled that. just a stunning display that our country have nearly civil war proportion. >> and there are number of agents to post insurrection or
empathized with those writers take us back whether the secret service can never be properly apolitical. and that complicates matters further. >> and a law-enforcement agency in america will almost always trend conservative but i was gob smacked to have screenshots of the presidential detail cheering for the patriots who stormed the capital. if you have the most elite agency protection in the world and some are stoking the belief that biden is not a legitimate president then how safere is president biden.
>> you don't write about him very much in this book that there is some mention of the new president of what it has been like and the paperback version of this park that is theoretically the first period of the biden administration and to reset everything if it's more of i the same. >> i have heard a lot of senior former agents that were close to former vice president biden are trying to spread the word to my book. and it's time to fix this. are we going to pay attention now or wait until something horrible happens? >> and then before they stepped up and step in.
spec i love this book is a great to talk to you i really feel i learned an enormous amount not only reading the book and spending time with you. thank you for making time for me. >> i love talking about it with you. thank you. >> thank you thats was a lightning. if you love to have a copy of this book, zero fail. they are copies at the lbj store.
us today courtesy of tom and margaret morris and john and deanna kinnaman. us today courtesy of tom and margaret and john indian and award-winning journalist use work comes from magicians to japanese americans and incarceration to his own kidnapping he has written for "the new york times", "esquire", time, men's health and philadelphia magazines among many other spublications a recipient of the german marshall fund of the united states marshall memorial fellowship which