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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Donald Trump surrounded by Secret Service agents

Americans’ confidence in once sacrosanct institutions is ebbing at a rate not seen in this country since the Vietnam War drove people to protest in the streets in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Latest to disappear down the rabbit hole Trump has burrowed beneath the foundations of the nation’s government are the Secret Service and the FBI, two institutions long revered as bastions of service and the high ideals of the rule of law.

The Secret Service is tasked with providing protection to the president and vice president and their families, former holders of the two highest offices in the land, and candidates for those offices while they campaign. In addition, the Secret Service as a law enforcement agency safeguards the banking system and other financial institutions, investigating cases of bank and mail fraud and the counterfeiting of currency.

The Secret Service is also part of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force which is supposed to combat terrorism on both international and national levels. And there, my friends, is the rub, because both the FBI and the Secret Service came under fire at yesterday’s hearing of the House Select Committee that is looking into what happened before, during, and after the assault on the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. It has been a mystery since that day why the FBI did not have intelligence before the attack that it was going to happen and that the assault would be violent.

The mystery surrounding the Secret Service includes its behavior while protecting Vice President Mike Pence from the mob and the steps it took both before the insurrection while Trump was preparing to speak on the Ellipse, and afterward, when the agents had made plans to bring Trump to the Capitol that were canceled only after it became clear that the attack was violent and the Metropolitan Police refused to cooperate in clearing the way for the presidential motorcade.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Secret Service revealed by the House Select Committee hearing was during the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was present backstage before Trump’s speech on the Ellipse. She heard Trump’s deputy chief of staff, a former Secret Service agent who had been on Trump’s personal protection detail, talking about how Secret Service agents policing the Ellipse had seen Trump supporters armed with handguns and rifles in the crowd outside the fenced-in area where they observed the speech.

She also told the committee that she had heard Trump tell the Secret Service to turn off the magnetometers which had been set up on the Ellipse to prevent people carrying weapons to enter. “Let my people in,” Trump commanded the Secret Service. “I don’t fucking care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the fucking mags (metal detectors) away.”

The Secret Service and Trump aides pushed back against Hutchinson’s testimony, trying to discount it as coming from a disgruntled former employee no longer loyal to the former president. But the texts of communications between Secret Service agents on January 6 before Trump’s speech proved that they knew that at least some in the crowd of Trump supporters at the Ellipse rally were armed. It turned out that the Park Service even arrested one man near the Washington Monument who had a sniper rifle, and the Secret Service was aware of that arrest, too. Other texts and emails from the Secret Service showed that agents were aware that threats had been made against members of Congress and the Vice President by groups planning to assault the Capitol.

The texts came to light in a million-page “document dump” by the Department of Homeland Security received by the select committee in August, after they had sought Secret Service text messages that the agency had deleted soon after the January 6 assault on the Capitol -- despite the fact that the DOJ and the House of Representatives had sent letters to the agency demanding that they maintain security over all messages sent by Secret Service agents both before and during the assault. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the “Secret Service had warnings earlier than previously known that supporters of President Donald Trump were plotting an armed attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to records revealed in a congressional hearing Thursday.”

Pence famously refused to get into an armored Secret Service SUV after he had been removed from his position overseeing the certification of electoral ballots. He was afraid they would spirit him away to a so-called secure location that might have turned out to be the blast-proof tunnels near Camp David where Vice President Cheney was taken on September 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Pence knew that if he was taken to such a place, he would be unable to preside over the Senate and the House as they went about the business of certifying the electoral ballots and officially declaring Joe Biden the president-elect.

Most of the controversy revealed about the FBI by the select committee had to do with reports that there had been an intelligence failure in the FBI prior to January 6. Testimony and documents gathered by the committee revealed that the FBI, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security had received warnings that there would be an attack on the Capitol on January 6, that it would be violent, and that some groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys had armed themselves and were prepared with so-called quick reaction forces with weapons and body armor that could be called on if the police used firearms in protecting the Capitol from the mob.

CNBC reported yesterday that after the events of January 6, a senior official in the FBI was warned that a “sizable percentage of the employee population” of the agency “felt sympathetic to the group that stormed the Capitol,” according to an email shown at the select xommittee hearing on Friday. CNBC added that the writer of the email listed multiple examples of FBI agents’ sympathies with the rioters, including “a Facebook page full of #StoptheSteal content from a senior analyst who had recently retired.”

So what’s going on here appears to be the same thing that recent polling has revealed: that a large percentage of the American public and an even larger percentage of the Republican Party are not bothered in the least by what happened on January 6. Something like 61 percent of Republicans believe that Joe Biden became president only because of election fraud, and Trump’s average approval rating of about 40 percent among Americans in general has remained the same throughout the committee hearings.

The FBI and the Secret Service are filled with conservatives who self-select as volunteers to serve in both agencies, and many of the agents in both organizations doubtlessly voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, still support him, and subscribe to his “stop the steal” lies about the election. There isn’t anything that can be done about that. People cannot be fired from civil service jobs in the government because of their political beliefs.

And the beat goes on with Trump and his own personal assault on our government, which appears to have hollowed out institutions like the FBI and the Secret Service and is probably having a corrosive effect on the military services as well. Beating Trump at the ballot box in 2020 didn’t stop the erosion of integrity in these organizations. Everything that happened surrounding January 6, for example, happened after Joe Biden had been elected, and revelations about rot within these agencies just keeps on coming.

Beating Trump in 2024 if he decides to run probably won’t stop the erosion of integrity in the government either, because Trumpism is now bigger than the man himself. He will be with us, it seems, for much, much longer, in spirit if not in body. So buckle up. We’re in for a rough ride.

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