Author Ronald Kessler just penned "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect," so he's been closely following the case of Michaele and Tareq Salahi.
POLITICO caught up with Kessler at Teatro Goldoni Monday night, where he was being feted with a dinner party in his honor. Click the above video to hear Kessler's thoughts on the Salahi case, whether it will inspire imitators and whether Social Secretary Desiree Rogers deserves some of the blame.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the ominous White House party crashers, may be getting their own reality show; but guests of The Georgetown Dish after party were drinking their family wine. “Oasis” was offered compliments of Yeas & Nays’ columnist Nikki Schwab who picked up a bottle over the weekend. Consensus: No offense to the family business, but we don’t blame Tareq for the troubled vineyard.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Secret Service Revealed
They (whoever they are) say that “timing is everything”. There’s no doubt in my mind that New York Times best selling author and multiple award winning journalist Ronald Kessler agrees with that. Fresh off the press, his latest/18th non-fiction work, called In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with the Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect was an instant NYT Best Seller and has spent 8 weeks on the hot list.
Kessler was the special guest at the author media meet & greet series that Janet Donovan of Creative Enterprises International, Christine Warnke of Hogan & Hartson and soon to be launched The Georgetown Dish’s Beth Solomon hosted on Monday evening. He and his wife Pamela talked with local media attendees at the reception, addressed the group prior to dinner being served, then patiently answered journalists’ questions before he bit into his dessert. The book openly and with no shame, tells accounts of the real deal – what really goes on behind the scenes with the overworked, understaffed agents whose job is to take a bullet for the POTUS.
The problem is not the agents, shared Kessler. It’s the management. He was emphatic in putting money back into the Agency. There’s nothing more important than protecting the President of the United States. If there is an assassination, there is no democracy. Because of budget cuts, these agents are working way too many stressful hours, straining their ability to do their job to the fullest.
On a lighter note, look for entertaining anecdotes of past (and current) Presidents and their families. Who was nice? Who was naughty? Who did what in public, yet was actually deceitful? Washington loves a great Tell All.
State Dinner Crashing Could Lead to Secret Service Improvements
Corrected on 12/09/09: An earlier version of this article misstated the president who Ron Kessler says was least respectful to his secret service agents. He says it was Carter.By Jessica Rettig, Washington Whispers
If there's one person who thinks the media attention on the Salahi-state dinner gate-crashing incident was a good thing, it's Ron Kessler, author of the recently In the President's Secret Service. The longtime journalist and writer of 17 other nonfiction books said that media scrutiny of the Secret Service is absolutely necessary, since corner-cutting has become the norm among the agents. The agents themselves are honorable men, all college-educated and well screened, and really would take a bullet for the Obamas, he says. But he claims that they are poorly managed and overworked, causing low morale and lots of slack in the system, such as letting unknown blondes in saris walk through security checkpoints when pressure is high.
The whole force, which protects not only the president but many of his staff, operates under a budget of $1.4 billion, about half of what it costs to build a single Stealth bomber. Kessler says that the conditions are detrimental to democracy itself.
At a dinner Monday at Washington's Teatro Goldoni, Kessler gave media representatives a preview of what's in his latest book. During his research, he was able to build up many sources, encouraging past and even current agents—more secretive than even FBI or CIA agents, he said—to open up about the people they protect.
His book gives the scoop on all the first daughters: how Jenna Bush would run through red lights to elude the agents, how Chelsea Clinton got into the most trouble of them all. How Jimmy Carter was a phony with the press—he'd carry his own (empty) luggage to seem more like the rest of America. How Lyndon B. Johnson would regularly strip naked on Air Force One. And how, long before the days of Monica Lewinsky, Johnson had his Secret Service agents install a buzzer to alert him when his wife was coming into the Oval Office. That was after she discovered him having sex with one of his aides.
As for our current president? Kessler says he's much more respectful to his agents than past presidents. (Carter was the least, he says.) He and Michelle even have special dinners for the Secret Service. The only dirt that Kessler found is that Obama still smokes from time to time, despite saying he's stopped. When asked if he thinks Obama is safe, Kessler replied, "No." He says that, especially after the party crashers, the president needs to fire Mark Sullivan, the director of the Secret Service, and at least double the agency's budget if he wants his family and staff truly out of harm's way.
KESSLER: SALAHIS INEVITABLE
Blog: Working the Room
Ronald Kessler dishes about the Secret Service, and Beth Solomon dishes about Georgetown
Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 2:53pm EST
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Kessler recounted tales of everything from which presidents really measured up to the personas they wanted to project (after all, who knows that truth better than the people protecting them 24-7?), to Jenna Bush's attempts to ditch her agents at red lights, to a frank discussion about a stagnant budget leading to too much corner cutting.
A second course of information came from Solomon, a former congressional speechwriter, current headhunter and yoga instructor and soon-to-be publisher of TheGeorgetownDish, a new news and social media site focusing on, well, all happenings Georgetown. Solomon has lined up numerous columnists known in Georgetown and social circles, including Mary Bird, dermatologist Tina Alster and Patty Ivey of Down Dog Yoga.
And if all goes well, this is just the start of a larger neighborhood of publications: Solomon has already reserved the URLs for other potential dish's, including McLean, Old Town, Newport, Palm Beach and the Hamptons.
Kessler Dishes on Secret Service, Salahis and His New Book
By Christine on Dec 08, 2009 11:27 AM
Kessler at Teatro Goldoni.
"An author's life is a roller coaster. Sometimes you write a book that no one really cares about, but this one is quite the opposite," Ronald Kessler said of his latest "In the President's Secret Service" to a small dinner of journos last night.
Consider the timing- Kessler's book came out just before the Salahis party-crashing story broke. He says that the stories in his book actually exceed this White House security breach. And that the fault lies with the Secret Service's management.
The dinner at Teatro Goldoni was hosted by Janet Donovan, Christina Warnke and Beth Solomon, whose Georgetown Dish launches next week.
Joining them was: CBS' Steve Chaggaris, Pamela's Punch Pamela Sorensen, Bisnow's Patrick Dowd, Yeas & Nays' Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers' Jessica Rettig, Washington Life's John Arundel (with mags hot off the press in hand), Bill Press, Fox's Catherine Herridge and The Hill's Christina Wilkie.
With late appearances by Time's Jay Newton-Small and Bobby Ghosh, Politico's Kiki Ryan, Tim Burger and Christina Sevilla.
More photos courtesy of the lovely Pamela Sorensen after the jump...
|December 8, 2009, 10:32 am by Christina Wilkie|
| Best-selling author Ron Kessler spoke about his new book, "In the President's Secret Service," at a dinner Monday at Teatro Goldoni hosted by publicist Janet Donovan, "Georgetown Dish" publisher Beth Solomon, and Hogan & Hartson lawyer Christine Warnke.|
The guest list reflected a broad spectrum of D.C. media personalities, ranging from Fox News Channel's homeland security correspondent, Catherine Herridge, to social chronicler Pamela Sorensen of Pamela's Punch.
Kessler's in-depth look at the executive protection agency was released early this fall and rose to the top of the non-fiction bestseller lists; but little could have prepared him for "Crashergate."
Ever since the White House state dinner security breach on Nov. 24, Kessler (pictured here with his wife, Pam Kessler) has appeared nearly non-stop on cable TV talk shows, sharing his observations on how the culture and management of the Secret Service might have contributed to the security breakdown.
Kessler told ITK he doesn't think individual agents are to blame for the Salahi breach; rather, it's a Service-wide culture that glorifies restraint, frugality and stoicism, even if sometimes it comes at the expense of a mission. "The trouble is that the agents are admirable, but the management is derelict," he explained.
Can the battered Secret Service be restored to its former glory? Kessler believes it can, but only through a major shake-up at the highest levels. One person Kessler thinks might be able to set the U.S.S.S. back on track is the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller, who is set to retire from his post in two years. "They need an outsider," said Kessler. "Someone with fresh blood to inject into the operation."