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What Is The Secret Service's Priority At Political Rallies?

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What Is The Secret Service's Priority At Political Rallies?

National Security

What Is The Secret Service's Priority At Political Rallies?

What Is The Secret Service's Priority At Political Rallies?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/470427673/470427674" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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When things get out of hand at a political rally, what is the Secret Service's first priority: crowd control or protecting the candidate? NPR's Ari Shapiro interviews former Secret Service Director Ralph Basham about the role of Secret Service on the contentious 2016 campaign trail.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Not every Donald Trump rally has headline-worthy drama. It just feels that way sometimes. Saturday, just a day after security concerns canceled the GOP front runner's appearance in Chicago, this happened in Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I know it's not -

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting).

SHAPIRO: A protester rushed the stage and was quickly subdued before he could get to Trump. As usual, Trump knew how to get the crowd fired up afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Thank you for the warning. I was ready for him, but it's much easier if the cops do it. Don't we agree?

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: It wasn't just the cops. It was the Secret Service. If the crowds stay this rowdy, what is the Service's role when it comes to security? Well, for that question we turn to Ralph Basham. He's former director of the Secret Service, now with Command Consulting Group here in Washington. Welcome.

RALPH BASHAM: Good to be here.

SHAPIRO: When there is violence at a rally, if that violence is not directed at the candidate, does the Secret Service have a role?

BASHAM: The Secret Service is not responsible for escorting or removing individuals who are expressing their First Amendment rights. That is the determination of the event coordinator, local security or others to make the determination as to whether or not they are going to be removed from the premises.

SHAPIRO: Walk us through the kinds of conversations that happen behind the scene among Secret Service agents, between agents and the campaign, when things start getting as heated as they appear to be getting right now.

BASHAM: The Secret Service, prior to any of these events, will get with local law enforcement. They'll get with the advance teams on the ground, as well as the staff of the campaign, and talk through these different scenarios. These conversations go on before every one of these events to make sure that everyone understands the role they're playing.

SHAPIRO: Will the Secret Service ever say to a campaign adviser or maybe even the candidate him or herself, your rhetoric isn't helping us? Could you tone it down?

BASHAM: That is not for the Secret Service to determine. They're not there to advise the candidate on what he or she is going to say. The problem that people don't realize is that when there is a disturbance in the crowd, the Secret Service is not there to leave their posted area to get themselves involved in that particular disservice because it takes them away from their area of responsibility. And you don't want someone to leave that area of responsibility and then open up potential vulnerability for someone else to take advantage of.

SHAPIRO: On Friday night, the Trump campaign canceled an event in Chicago because of security concerns. Does the Secret Service ever make that call, or is that call always up to the campaign and the Secret Service will do their best to protect the candidate whether or not they believe the event should have gone forward?

BASHAM: Well, I'm assuming, just from my experience in the past - there is discussion, normally, with the staff and even sometimes the protectee themselves in terms of OK, just how difficult is this, and do we really believe that we can provide adequate protection for whatever the event may be?

SHAPIRO: If the answer is no, we don't think we can provide adequate protection and the protectee says, I want to go ahead with this anyway, what do you do?

BASHAM: You do your best to provide that protection. But obviously, it would be a situation where the protectee and the Secret Service have an understanding that this is what we're going into.

SHAPIRO: How concerned are you about the violence that we're seeing on the campaign trail these days?

BASHAM: Well, like everyone else - it's very concerning, and I really feel bad for the agents who are charged with this responsibility. And like you, I've never - I don't think I've ever seen - maybe going back to the Nixon years, perhaps - you know, you don't want to see this. You don't want it to escalate to the point where, you know, the Secret Service has to literally intervene and cover a protectee. That is a challenging situation.

SHAPIRO: That's former Secret Service Director Ralph Basham, now with Command Consulting Group here in Washington. Thanks for speaking with us.

BASHAM: You're welcome, Ari.

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