As soon as I saw the headline to Prof. Turley’s latest post on his blog, “Res Ipsa Loquitur” I knew we had an ethics quiz: “Presidential Protection or Abduction: Why Secret Service Wrong for all the Right Reasons on Jan. 6.”
Turley’s article was prompted by one aspect of the Jan. 6 Commission testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson that President Trump ordered his official SUV to take him to the U.S. Capitol to be on hand with his supporters as they rallied (it turned out to be a “mostly peaceful” rally) against what Trump had told them was the stolen 2020 election. According to the witness, that she was told that T his Secret Service security team refused, causing the President to become furious.
Turley’s take, in brief:
…the Secret Service is trained to take immediate action to protect a president. On the other hand, it cannot effectively control the presidency by controlling a president like a modern Praetorian Guard. In the end, if this account is true, the security team was likely wrong in refusing the order of the President to be taken to Capitol Hill….Trump intended to do exactly what he promised and ordered the Secret Service to take him to the Capitol. But Tony Ornato, White House deputy chief of staff for operations, and Bobby Engel, who headed Trump’s security detail, reportedly refused.
…If true, the security team’s motivation certainly was commendable. It probably prevented Jan. 6 from getting much, much worse…what was the authority of the security team to refuse a direct order from a sitting president to go to Congress?
…The Secret Service has always assumed discretion in seizing a president to protect him from immediate harm [but there was no immediate harm threatened]…Trump reportedly decided he wanted to lead the protests to the Capitol and didn’t care about the security uncertainties — and he actually had a right to do so. Presidents can elect to put themselves in harm’s way… The Secret Service has no authority to put a president into effective custody against his will… In Trump’s case, he reportedly said he did not want to go back to the White House but was taken there anyway.
…This act of disobedience may have saved the country from an even greater crisis…
In the end, the security team was correct on the merits but probably wrong on the law. This was not an unlawful order, and a president must be able to control his own travel. In other words, the agents were wrong for all the right reasons.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is: Continue reading