Jay Sekulow, one of President Donald Trump’s attorneys, suggested Sunday that the June 2016 meeting between multiple Russians and Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager was vetted by the United States Secret Service.
Although he claimed that the president did not know about or participate in the meeting — which was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort — Sekulow suggested on ABC’s This Week that it could not have been really bad or else the agents would have stopped it.
“I wondered why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why did the Secret Service allow these people in?” Sekulow told ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “The president had Secret Service protection at that point. That raised a question with me.”
In November 2015, then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson approved Secret Service protection for then-candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson. The agency protects “[m]ajor presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses,” as well as the president, vice president, their immediate families, and visiting foreign heads of state and their spouses. As such, Trump and his wife Melania were being protected at the time of the meeting.
But at that point, the Secret Service was not protecting any of the Trump campaign representatives who actually attended. Only in September 2016 — well after the Russian visit — did agents begin to provide protection for Ivanka Trump. Prior to that, Trump’s adult children were only provided with protection when “physically near the candidate,” according to a contemporaneous ABC News report. Separate protection for Eric Trump and Donald Jr. came sometime after that.
Although the Secret Service is authorized to “make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence,” the Secret Service’s protection detail is to provide for the physical safety of protectees. It is unclear why Sekulow would think their job would include stopping them from “nefarious” activities or ensuring the candidate or his team does not violate campaign finance laws.
Unless the Secret Service thought that the senior Trump or Vladimir Putin himself was going to be at or very near the meeting, Sekulow’s claim that the Secret Service “allowed” the Russians in is what raises the real questions.
UPDATE: In a statement to Reuters on Sunday, a Secret Service spokesman confirmed that Donald Jr. was not under the agency’s protection when the meeting took place.
“Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016,” he wrote. “Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.”