President Obama has expanded the very small group of top aides who are given the privilege of taxpayer-funded personal drivers — who take them from their house to work and back home again each day — to include two top political advisers.
The Bush White House did not give the same privileges to any of its political advisers, according to former Bush administration officials. There is a record of the Clinton White House doing so once for two months, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller.
Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, both senior advisers to the president, have been given the luxurious and prestigious perk of being picked up at their homes and driven to work or around town throughout the day in government vehicles chauffeured by military drivers, according to a list of those given the benefit provided to The Daily Caller by the White House.
In addition, Jarrett has been made a “protectee” of the Secret Service, a spokesman for the agency said. It is not clear to what extent Jarrett receives protection. Neither the White House or Secret Service would comment on the matter.
“We don’t discuss the scope or nature of protection for any Secret Service protectee due to operational security concerns,” said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan.
But except for a few weeks after 9/11, political advisers to Bush such as Karl Rove did not have Secret Service details with them except for the rare occasion where they gave a speech where protesters were expected.
Axelrod was given protectee status in the late summer of 2009, according to a blog written by a former Washington Post national security reporter. It is unclear whether he retains that status. Donovan declined to comment on Axelrod’s status.
Regardless, one knowledgeable source indicated that Jarrett has regular or semi-regular detail protection, which has left some questioning whether the close friend of the president’s, whose portfolio involves mostly outreach to the business sector and domestic policy, really needs the high level of security.
The White House and Secret Service would not comment on whether there have been threats or security concerns to merit the protection, though that is usually the reason agents are assigned to protect a government official. The Secret Service did say that the Obama administration has fewer protectees than the Bush administration did.
One eyewitness, on the morning of April 15, saw Jarrett being ferried to work on Pennsylvania Avenue in a black Dodge Charger SRT8 with official police lights mounted on the grill. There was a man in a suit and tie driving and another man in suit and tie in the passenger seat. Jarrett was in the back seat and appeared to be asleep.
The White House said it was not aware of Jarrett being driven to work in such a vehicle, since it is not a model usually used by the Secret Service or in the White House motor pool.
As for the car privileges, the term of art for being picked up and dropped off at home is “portal to portal.” The president is allowed to designate a small number of aides who can receive the service outside of those who get it automatically.
“We drew the line at who needed secure communications pretty much constantly,” said Joe Hagin, who was deputy White House chief of staff for operations. “Counsel didn’t have it. Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett, they never had it. Karl [Rove] never had it. Barry Jackson never had it.”