Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In The President's Secret Service: Some Were Serial Cheaters, Others Were Just Rude And Crude

Ronald Kessler's bestselling book, In The President's Secret Service: Behind The Scenes With Agents In The Line Of Fire And The Presidents They Protect, contains these conclusions about presidents based on interviews with agents and other witnesses; their Secret Service code names are in parenthesis:
John F. Kennedy (Lancer): "Newman and other agents assigned to guard Kennedy soon learned that he led a double life. He was the charismatic leader of the free world. But in his other life, he was the cheating, reckless husband whose aides snuck women into the White House to appease his sexual appetite."
Lyndon B. Johnson (Volunteer): "If Secret Service agents found Kennedy to be reckless, Lyndon B. Johnson was uncouth, nasty, and often drunk." Like Kennedy, Kessler writes, LBJ was a serial philanderer, once caught by Lady Bird having sex with a secretary on a sofa in the Oval Office. "Johnson 'would screw anything that would crawl, basically,' says William F. Cuff...executive assistant in (LBJ's) military office."
Richard M. Nixon (Searchlight): "If Lyndon Johnson was out of control, the Secret Service found Richard Nixon and his family to be the strangest protectees. Like Johnson, Nixon...did not sleep in the same bedroom with his wife...Nixon seemed to have no relationship with his wife, Pat." Pat, Kessler writes, was "an alcoholic who tippled martinis." Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, "was having affairs while in office," Kessler adds.
Gerald R. Ford (Passkey): "In contrast to Richard Nixon, Secret Service agents found Gerald be a decent man who valued their service." Kessler adds that Ford was "cheap," a man to whom a one dollar tip for about anything was appropriate. "Unlike many other presidents," Kessler writes, "Ford never engaged in any dalliances."
Jimmy Carter (Deacon): "If the Secret Service considered Richard Nixon the strangest modern president, Jimmy Carter was known as the least likeable. If the true measure of a man is how he treats the little people, Carter flunked the test. Inside the White House, Carter treated with contempt the little people who helped and protected him." Carter, he adds, was a meddling micro-manager whose irresponsibility placed the nation in danger more than once. "For all his bizarre behavior and shams, Carter was genuinely religious, did not swear, and had a loving relationship with his wife, Rosalynn, who acted as an adviser. Says Richard Repasky, who was on Carter's detail, 'Rosalynn really was the brains of the outfit.'"
Ronald Reagan (Rawhide): "In contrast to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan treated Secret Service agents, the Air Force One crew, and the maids and butlers in the White House with respect." There's more: "Quite often, Reagan wrote personal checks to people who had written him with hard luck stories. Reagan was famous for firing up air force jets on behalf of children who needed transport for kidney operations, says Frank J. Kelly, who drafted presidential messages. 'These are things you never knew about. He never bragged about it. I hand-carried checks for four thousand or five thousand dollars to people who had written him. He would say, 'Don't tell people. I was poor myself.'" When Gary Hart got caught with Donna Rice and ended his presidential bid, Reagan heard about it from a staffer just as he and agents were getting on an elevator. "Reagan nodded and looked at the agent. 'Boys will be boys,' he said. When the door of the elevator shut, Reagan said to (agent Ted) Hresko, 'But boys will not be president.'" (Nancy Reagan, however, was another story: "Code-named 'Rainbow,' Nancy was 'very cold.... She had her circle of four friends in Los Angeles, and that was it." Nancy's sole goal, he writes, was to protect her husband.)
George H. W. Bush (Timberwolf): "...Bush...treated Secret Service agents and everyone else around him with respect and consideration, as did his wife, Barbara." An agent on the detail said Barbara Bush "was everyone's mother...she was a sweetheart." Said another agent: "Barbara and George Bush were genuinely in love. They share a special bond of being married and being each other's best friends that you really don't see a lot of." The agent said rumors of a Bush affair with a staff member were just that, and, "I never saw it, and I was with the guy for four years." (An entire chapter, 18, of Kessler's book deals with an incident in Enid in September 1992 involving Bush; it's worth the price of the book alone.)
Bill Clinton (Eagle): "Secret Service agents refer to what they call Clinton Standard Time. That is a reference to the fact that Bill often one to two hours late." Aside from his philandering, Kessler writes, Clinton was decent to agents and others. It was Hillary who had an "explosive temper" and constantly belittled everyone. "She's very angry and sarcastic and is very hard on her staff. She yells at them and complains," said one agent. One agent says she "did not speak to us. We spent years with her. She never said thank you."
George W. Bush (Trailblazer): "They (the Bushes) are always thinking of people around them. If agents thought highly of Bush, it was nothing compared to their feelings about his wife. 'Laura has the undying admiration of almost every agent,' an agent says. 'I've never heard a negative thing about Laura Bush. Everybody loves her to death and respects the hell out of her.'" (However, daughters Jenna and Barbara were a handful; both were rebellious and resented the constant presence of agents. Both constantly tried to ditch agents. Gerald Ford's daughter, Susan, had done the same thing.)
Barack Obama (Renegade): "Agents say both Barack Obama...and Michelle Obama, code-named Renaissance, treat them with respect...." Kessler reveals that on April 4, 2008, just before the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. made his controversial National Press Club speech, Obama met secretly with him after agents used a disguised mini-van to deliver him to Wright's home. And, Kessler writes, "Contrary to Obama's repeated claims that he is quitting smoking, he has continued to smoke regularly, agents say." And of Obama's opponent, John McCain, Kessler writes, "Unlike Obama, Secret Service agents say McCain, code-named Phoenix, was irritable, impatient, and displayed his famous temper over trivial annoyances."
The book is available at local bookstores and online.

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