Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

The Secret Service's Day of Reckoning Approaches

| Mar. 19, 2023

An indictment of former President Donald Trump would offer the agency a chance to restore its tarnished reputation.

Whether Donald Trump is arrested and booked on Tuesday or not for a case involving a payoff to the porn star Stormy Daniels—something only he has predicted—the potential arrest of a former United States president is not only unprecedented but actually quite technically challenging. How does one arrest a former president in a democracy that has never faced this prospect before? The fate Trump may finally face in a courtroom is not the only reckoning coming around the bend. For the U.S. Secret Service, this is an opportunity for a course correction.

After years in which some agents acted as Trump's loyal servants, the Secret Service must get back to basics. Although the agency faced considerable challenges before Trump became president, by the end of his presidency, its critics charged that its loyalty to the United States had been subsumed by its loyalty to a man. Trump regularly grifted off the service, charging it exorbitant hotel fees for his own protection on his properties. Trump broke the tradition of separating politics from protection when he appointed the deputy assistant director of the Secret Service, Anthony Ornato, to be his own deputy chief of staff; the service seemed a willing accomplice to Trump's agenda. The roles played by both Ornato and the service in the January 6 insurrection were, at best, an embarrassing mess and, at worst, a sign that the service was not salvageable.

We were all talking about the Secret Service too much; it had become the subject and was not, as intended, in the background. Whether President Joe Biden has the capacity or inclination to take on an agency that is simultaneously protecting him and his family remains unclear; Biden has appointed a new director, but there haven't been massive firings or reviews....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“The Secret Service's Day of Reckoning Approaches.” The Atlantic, March 19, 2023.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem Headshot