By Ronald Kessler
Of all the offspring of presidents in recent memory, Chelsea Clinton was the best first child, according to Secret Service agents.
“In my career, Chelsea Clinton did it the best,” says an agent familiar with both her detail and the Bush twins’ details. “Treated the detail right, told them what was going on, never gave problems that I knew of.”
Agents describe what the first families have been like in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,” out this week in paperback with a new chapter on the Salahis' intrusion at President Obama’s state dinner.
The new material includes disclosure of a secret Presidential Threat Task Force established within the FBI to address the increase in threats against President Obama. The task force operates within the FBI’s National Security Branch. It consists of 20 representatives from pertinent agencies, including agents from the FBI and Secret Service and operatives from the CIA, the NSA, and the Defense Department, along with FBI analysts.
In contrast to newlywed Chelsea, Jenna and Barbara Bush would try to lose their agents and would not tell them where they were going or when. Jenna would run red lights to try to evade her agents.
“I think she has a hard time grasping how easy it would be to pick her up, throw her in a van, and next thing you know she’s on Al Jazeera,” an agent said when Jenna was still in the White House. “And we’re out there, we’re trying to do the right thing. And I don’t think she understands it. She definitely didn’t respect what we’re out there trying to do for her.”
Jenna “doesn’t like the protection whatsoever,” said another agent. “The supervisor of her detail was scared of her, because they were afraid that she was going to pick up the phone and call dad.”
In fact, the agent said, Jenna called her father many times when she wanted the agents to back off. “The president would call the special agent in charge,” the agent says. “The SAIC [special agent in charge] would call the detail leader, the detail leader would call the guys and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to back off.’”
At times, Bush chewed out the detail for not following his daughter. One afternoon at the White House, Jenna snuck out a back exit that leads to the Rose Garden, eluding her detail. Bush saw her leave and called the detail leader to complain that she was not being followed.
“She stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Daddy, I didn’t tell them where I was going,’” an agent recalls.
Says another agent, “Every day we’d run the risk of losing her. She never told us where she was going. It was rare. Sometimes she’d tell Neil [the detail leader], and Neil would get the scoop of what was going on, and Neil would try hard to get that information.”
Another agent says Barbara was almost as difficult as Jenna. “She’d pick up the phone and call dad and say that we’re getting too close,” the agent says.
When Barbara was attending Yale, she sometimes jumped in her car with friends and drove to New York, where she would stay overnight, never giving her agents advance warning.
“Agents learned to pack a bag with clothing, because it became a habit for both Barbara and Jenna to say I want to go to the airport, I want to fly to New York,” an agent says. “These guys were prepared to work an evening shift and all of a sudden they’re going with just the clothes on their backs.”
“Instead of calling somebody to complain about us, just tell us what you’re going to do and we’ll make it work, but just work with us, instead of trying to play games with us, making our lives miserable,” says an agent who was on Jenna’s detail.
Meanwhile, at a 2005 Halloween party in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, Henry Hager, who was Jenna’s boyfriend and is now her husband, became so inebriated that the Secret Service wound up taking him to Georgetown University Hospital.
“It was after a Halloween party, and they were all dressed up in their costumes,” an agent on her detail recalls. “She’s like, ‘Listen Henry, we’ve got to get you out of this costume, we got to look dignified before we go to the hospital.’ At this point, I’m thinking to myself, yeah, she’s growing up a little bit when she’s thinking about having to look dignified before going to the hospital, as opposed to looking like a sloppy drunken mess in a Halloween costume.”
Another time, Hager became drunk with Jenna in a Georgetown bar and picked a fight with several other patrons. Agents had to intervene to avoid a brawl.
“He was getting out of control and starting to pick a fight,” an agent says. “Agents pulled him aside and they said, ‘You realize that you are with the president’s daughter? You know the situation you are putting her and us in because of the way you’re acting?’”
As time went on, the twins became more mature and demonstrated that they appreciated their detail.
“Around Fourth of July, Jenna had a whole bunch of steaks delivered to our command post,” an agent says. “Around Christmas, she gave us all another order of steaks and hot dogs and stuff like that. It’s got to be tough being the kid of a president. I can’t imagine it.”
Susan Ford and Amy Carter also gave their agents a hard time.