For Secret Service, Proximity Is The Issue
By Bruce Morton/CNN
WASHINGTON (July 16) -- It goes back to President William McKinley's murder, and the question, how close can you get, was an issue even then.
"There was one Secret Service agent with McKinley and, in fact, proximity was an issue even in those days," says retired Secret Service agent Tom Quinn. "And when he [McKinley] was assassinated, he had just shortly before that asked the agent to step back so that a staff member could step in and could converse with him."
In protection, close matters.
"Proximity is the whole issue," says Leon Panetta, President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff. "If they aren't near the president, then you begin to jeopardize their ability to protect the president."
Close matters. So does trust. American don't like tattletales, snitches.
Linda Tripp, who taped and tattled on her supposed friend Monica Lewinsky, has approval ratings somewhere near Saddam Hussein's.
Tim McCarthy is the ex-agent who took a bullet trying to protect Ronald Reagan.
"Going on to the presidential or vice presidential detail, it was made very clear to you in your briefings that what you see there and what you hear there, would remain there," McCarthy says.
Close and confidential. It was the same when Squeaky Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, when John Hinckley went after Reagan. As a matter of law, judges have ruled so far that agents have to tell on the presidents they guard. As a matter of common sense, what will that mean, when the president is talking to his lawyer, to his wife, in the limo?
"The agent is put out of the car on the next ride, and out of the car on the next ride," says Warren Dennis, an attorney for former Secret Service agents. "And in the future, between now and five years from now, if you have enough hundreds of incidents when the agent is put out of the car or asked to step away from proximity, we will have an assassinated president."
What is the law? What is the common sense? Can agents protect presidents who keep saying, "Back off?"
"The outcome may well be that there is no confidentiality," says McCarthy. "And without a doubt, there's going to be a separation between the president and the Secret Service agents."
In these very partisan times, future presidents can expect to be investigated, especially if the other party controls the Congress.
If they know their agents will be talking to the special prosecutor, how much will they trust the agents, and how close will they let them get?