White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday that President Obama does not decide who receives Secret Service protection and who does not.
That doesn’t appear to be accurate.
According to federal statute, there is a small group of government officials, starting with the president, who automatically receive Secret Service protection. There are varying degrees of protection.
All other individuals who receive “protectee” status must be designated as such by an executive order from the president, according to the Secret Service website. The Secret Service often provides recommendations on who can or should be protected based on their own assessments.
But nothing happens without the president’s signature.
Yet Gibbs said Tuesday, “The President doesn’t make protectee decisions.”
“Protectee decisions are made at — by the Secret Service,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs was asked the question following a Daily Caller report Tuesday that top political aides Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod have been given special car transportation arrangements usually in past administrations for reserved for national security officials.
Jarrett has also been made a “protectee” of the Secret Service, though neither the White House nor the Secret Service would comment on whether there have been security assessments that necessitated Jarrett’s receiving protection, which is unusual for political aides.
Axelrod was reported to have been made a “protectee” last year, but it is unknown if he still receives protection.
“I’m not going to get into who has protection and who doesn’t,” Gibbs said. “That is a decision that is made by the Secret Service.”
On its website, however, the Secret Service clearly states that the president must issue an executive order for aides like Jarrett and Axelrod to receive protection:
By law, the Secret Service is authorized to protect:
- The president, the vice president, (or other individuals next in order of succession to the Office of the President), the president-elect and vice president-elect
- The immediate families of the above individuals
- Former presidents, their spouses, except when the spouse re-marries
- Children of former presidents until age 16
- Visiting heads of foreign states or governments and their spouses traveling with them, other distinguished foreign visitors to the United States, and official representatives of the United States performing special missions abroad
- Major presidential and vice presidential candidates, and their spouses within 120 days of a general presidential election
- Other individuals as designated per Executive Order of the President and
- National Special Security Events, when designated as such by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
Asked to comment on the discrepancy between Gibbs’ statement at the briefing Tuesday and the law, the White House declined.
Here is the video (starts at minute 39:48) and transcript of the full exchange between Gibbs’ and New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg:
Q Robert, I noticed the Daily Caller today reported that Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod have drivers — government drivers to and from work and been accorded Secret Service protection. And I wondered if that is correct. And also are any other top aides to the President — Rahm or yourself or others — afforded that status?
MR. GIBBS: Afforded what status?
Q The Secret Service protection and also the driver.
MR. GIBBS: Well, each President is afforded six opportunities to provide transportation. The President does that.
Q Six for the —
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into who has protection and who doesn’t. That is a decision that is made by the Secret Service. I will mention that the number of non-statutory protectees — obviously there are people that have protection based on the law. The Secret Service makes evaluations as to those who might need it. Again, I’m not going to get into who, where, and why. But those currently — currently in our administration there are 33 percent fewer non-statutory protectees than at the end of the previous administration.
Q And can you just explain, does the protectee status come with a car —
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q — or is that a separate decision that the President makes to provide transportation?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. The President doesn’t make protectee decisions. Protectee decisions are made at — by the Secret Service. If you have questions about that, I would speak with the Secret Service.
Q Okay, but he makes the decisions about the transport?
MR. GIBBS: It is up to six that can do that, yes.
Q — and has up to six that he can do that.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Can you say why he chose Valerie and David as two of the six?
MR. GIBBS: Based on their jobs.
Q You get one?
MR. GIBBS: No.