Secret Service experts are speculating in group chats about how Trump might be hauled out of the White House if he won't budge on Inauguration Day
- The US Secret Service has never had to drag a president out of the White House.
- But President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election and his suggestions that he might not budge have Democrats and former law-enforcement officials envisioning a scenario where he won't exit the White House on Inauguration Day.
- So what happens if a newly sworn-in President Joe Biden shows up at the White House on January 20 and Trump won't leave the Oval Office?
- Government experts and former officials said it could fall to the Secret Service to usher Trump out, but former Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security officials told Insider there was no playbook for that.
- "This is such uncharted territory," a former Secret Service agent told Insider.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The Secret Service has never had to drag a president out of the White House. And there's no obvious government playbook on how to handle a commander in chief who refuses to budge when his replacement shows up at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
President Donald Trump still refuses to concede the election, and he told some of his advisors he won't leave the White House on Inauguration Day, according to CNN. This all has triggered speculation about how Trump might be physically removed from the building when the new president is sworn in on January 20.
It's even been a hot topic in a private group chat involving former Secret Service officials and Department of Homeland Security alumni from both Republican and Democratic administrations, according to a former Obama administration DHS official.
Biden's team has said the government would have no trouble removing "trespassers" from the White House if it comes down to that on Inauguration Day.
But how exactly would that go down?
Insider interviewed five former officials who worked for the US Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security about what the government would do if Trump didn't go voluntarily. They all agreed it was not among the long list of incidents they'd ever had to practice for and said it could put the agencies in an uncomfortable position.
'We're not there to evict people'
A worst-case scenario that appears unlikely but not entirely out of the question: A newly sworn-in President Biden shows up at the White House on January 20, ready to sign a pile of executive orders. But Trump insists he's still president and won't leave his desk in the Oval Office.
"That's when you really get to the ultimate flash point," one former senior DHS official said. "I can't imagine it ever getting to that point, but in this environment, there's a lot of firsts."
There's usually a clear script for presidential power handovers. The departing president hosts the president-elect at the White House on the morning of January 20 before they ride together to the US Capitol for the inaugural ceremony. Afterward, the ex-president and his family fly away in a helicopter. Meanwhile, staffers back at the White House swap out the outgoing president's belongings for the new first family's.
But it's unclear whether those formalities will take place in January, or whether a spurned Trump would even attend the inauguration ceremonies. There's speculation he might opt to leave town entirely — perhaps even kicking off his own 2024 campaign that day — or that he might not leave the White House and continue to dispute the election outcome.
If he stays in the White House, many government experts predict that Trump's physical removal from office would come down to the Secret Service — an agency within DHS that's charged with protecting the president and evicting trespassers from the complex. But that's complicated for many reasons, including the fact that the Secret Service also protects former presidents, which Trump will become on the afternoon of Inauguration Day.
The Secret Service agents who are assigned to protecting the current president have every right to say to the ex-president, "You have to leave," said Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative public-policy think tank American Enterprise Institute and a government-operations expert.
But the agency — which prides itself on protecting presidents regardless of their political leanings — will want nothing to do with that, former Secret Service officials said.
"We're not there to evict people; we're there to protect people," a former Secret Service official who was involved in previous presidential transitions said. "I don't see the Secret Service going in there and knocking on the door and saying, 'Time to leave, sir. Checkout is at 11 o'clock.' Are they going to physically pick him up and do it?"
That former official said the onus would be on people close to Trump and GOP members of Congress to convince the president that his term is up in the unlikely event "that he does barricade himself in there."
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told Insider last month that the president "will accept the results of a free and fair election," when asked whether Trump intended to leave the White House after Biden is sworn in.
Gray area for the Secret Service
There's never been an official manual detailing what law-enforcement officials ought to do if a president won't leave office, former Secret Service and DHS officials told Insider. But they suspect government officials are thinking about it now, given Trump's continued refusal to concede to Biden.
Before Trump's presidency, "I don't think anyone ever anticipated such a possibility," said one former Secret Service agent who served under Republican and Democratic presidents.
Secret Service officials are trained for scenarios like what to do during a State of the Union address when the president and Cabinet are in Congress and a designated survivor is kept in a hidden location in case of attack. But a president refusing to leave the White House is a "whole gray area," another former agent said. "This is such uncharted territory."
Julia McMurray, a Secret Service spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether the agency might play a role in removing Trump from office.
Secret Service Director James Murray was appointed to the job by Trump in May 2019 and oversees about 6,500 employees, including more than 3,000 special agents. More than 130 were forced to isolate or quarantine because of coronavirus exposure, The Washington Post reported. That is partly because some officers attended Trump campaign rallies ahead of the presidential election.
Murray reports to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, a Trump ally and vocal cheerleader for the administration's immigration policies.
Wolf is one of the many Trump loyalists remaining in the upper echelons of this administration, despite recent purges of those deemed disloyal to the president. Two top DHS employees were forced out by the White House in November over suspicions that they weren't sufficiently loyal to the president, The Post reported.
DHS alumni game out eviction scenarios in a group chat
Former DHS officials and Secret Service agents have been speculating about how agents might get involved if Trump won't leave. Each former official interviewed by Insider said they hoped the president would leave office well before the Secret Service or other law-enforcement officials would need to get involved.
The former Secret Service official who worked on past transitions has been fielding regular questions about what the agency would do if Trump refused to leave. That person said the Secret Service ought to make it clear to the public that it wouldn't be those agents' job to get involved. "You cannot ignore this," the ex-official said.
Military leaders also declared early on that they didn't intend to help settle any election-related arguments. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejected suggestions that the military could escort Trump out of the White House if he refused to go.
The process for removing Trump from the Oval Office has been a hot topic of discussion on a group chat with former Secret Service officials and other DHS alumni from both Republican and Democratic administrations, said Douglas Smith, who served as assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
One scenario that's been floated: The Secret Service detail charged with guarding Trump would "sort of close their eyes" while Biden's new Secret Service team comes in and walks Trump out the door, Smith said.
There has also been speculation the FBI could get involved or that the US Marshal Service, a branch of the Justice Department, could come in and escort Trump out, Smith said. The US Marshal Service did not respond to a request for comment.
"This has never ever, ever happened before," Smith said. But ultimately, it could work just like any other eviction.
"If you're renting your apartment in DC, and you don't pay your rent, don't pay your rent, don't pay your rent, and they finally get a judgment against you, you're evicted," Smith said. "It won't be the Secret Service's responsibility to prevent him from being evicted. That's not their job."
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