If Trump goes to prison, the Secret Service goes too

The mission of the American “Secret Service” is to protect the president, whether he is at the White House or visiting a war zone abroad.

But protecting a former president in prison? That would be unheard of. But that’s what will have to be done if Donald Trump – whom the agency is required to protect 24 hours a day – is found guilty and imprisoned following his criminal trial in New York.

Even before the trial began, the Secret Service prepared, to some extent, for the extraordinary possibility of a former president being sent to prison. Prosecutors asked Judge Juan Merchan to remind Mr. Trump that he faced incarceration even before the verdict if he attacked witnesses and jurors. (Judge Merchan held a hearing Tuesday to determine whether Mr. Trump is in contempt of court; if so, he is likely to issue a warning or impose a fine before taking the extreme step of jailing the former president, aged 77 The judge has not said when he will issue his decision.)

Last week, following prosecutors’ request, federal, city and state officials met to discuss how the unprecedented situation would be handled, according to two people familiar with the matter.

A former president in prison

That behind-the-scenes conversation — involving members of the Secret Service and other agencies — focused only on travel and protecting Mr. Trump if the judge ordered a short contempt sentence in a courthouse cell.


US Secret Service agents have been part of Donald Trump’s entourage since his election to the presidency in November 2015.

The much bigger challenge – how to safely incarcerate the former president if the jury finds him guilty and the judge sentences him to prison – has not yet been addressed, according to a dozen current and former officials. city, state and federal government interviewed for this article.

This is a less pressing problem: If Mr. Trump is convicted, there will likely be a long series of appeals, probably all the way to the Supreme Court, which will delay any sentencing for months or even years. observe several sources, who emphasize that a prison sentence is improbable.

But the challenge remains significant for the Secret Service and the prison administration, which would face the logistical nightmare of ensuring the security of Mr. Trump in prison, an inmate who would also be the Republican candidate for president.

“We’re in uncharted territory, obviously,” says Martin F. Horn, a former New York and Pennsylvania state prison executive who headed New York City’s Department of Prisons and Parole. No state prison or federal penitentiary has ever had to deal with a situation like this, he said.


Secret Service agents await the arrival of Donald Trump on the tarmac of a heliport in Los Angeles, September 17, 2019. The Secret Service is required to protect current and former presidents, but the prospect of having to do so in prison is unprecedented.

Protecting Mr. Trump in prison would require isolating him from other inmates and securing his food and personal belongings, officials say: a team of agents would work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with rotations in the establishment. These agents would be armed, despite the strict ban on weapons in prisons.

According to former prison officials, there are several prisons that have been closed in whole or in part in New York State: one of these buildings could be used to incarcerate the former president and to the accommodation of his close guard.

No comment

The Secret Service does not comment on specific “protective operations,” said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. He said only that federal law requires Secret Service agents to protect former presidents and that they have cutting-edge technology, intelligence and methods at their disposal.


A close protection agent for President Trump in September 2020, during an election rally during the presidential campaign.

At the New York State Corrections Agency, spokesman Thomas J. Mailey declined to comment on the treatment of a person who has not yet been sentenced. But there is a system to assess and manage individuals’ medical, psychological and safety needs, he added. In New York City, spokesperson Frank Dwyer said only that “the prison service would find suitable accommodation” for the former president.

In the New York trial – the only one of four criminal cases likely to go before a jury before the election – Mr. Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal involving a porn actress. He faces a maximum sentence of four years in state prison, which would be extremely harsh for a man with no criminal record of Mr. Trump’s age. Judge Merchan could impose a suspended sentence and probation.

If Mr. Trump is convicted and elected president, he will not be able to pardon himself, as the prosecution was initiated by the State of New York.

In New York, any “municipal sentence” (one year or less) is generally served on the infamous Rikers Island, where all seven New York City jails are located. Mr. Trump’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, 76, is serving his second five-month sentence there for crimes related to his work at the Trump Corporation.

Any “state sentence” (more than one year) is generally served in one of 44 prisons administered by the New York State Department of Corrections and Probation.

A suspended sentence and probation would lead to a surreal situation, with the former commander in chief of the United States required to report at set intervals to a municipal probation officer.

He should obey the instructions of his probation officer and be accountable for his work and private life until his probation ends. He would also be prohibited from associating with people of bad reputation and, if he committed further crimes, he could be imprisoned on the spot.

This article was published in the New York Times.

Read this article in its original version (in English; subscription required).

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