Despite the funny tweets (below is one example) of #clintonfire, people have found the fire at the Clinton Chappaqua residence funny and interesting. As the DOJ opens up yet another investigation into the Clintons, there are some aspects of this story that have evaded the media. The people should know what's what and it gets to much of why I wrote Secrets of the Secret Service as well as Crisis of Character about my time in USSS.
Summary of the incident from CBS News:
"Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill tweeted that the fire occurred in a building used by the Secret Service on the property. He said the fire was "small" and the Clintons were not home at the time."
Here's what I do know and can say...
The Clinton's purchased the 1.7 million home in upscale Chappaqua New York in 1999 so that Mrs. Clinton could carpetbag the senate race (also known as 'satisfying a residency requirement to run for office) and become a Senator. As soon as they acquired the home and had plans to spend some significant time there, the Secret Service had to set up shop, a place to operate out of, bunking for a few agents or officers to rest their feet, grab a coffee, etc. In addition to a break room, it was a necessary security fixture to store and stage equipment, house our monitoring equipment, etc. Simple stuff.
In addition to the shed, was a house USSS rented down the street. It bunked agents and officers and was a staging for more vehicles, personnel, etc. It was also a "QRF" (Quick Reaction Force) where, in case of attack, USSS could respond in greater force.
But back to this shed, the sight of this Clinton fire...
In the 1990's the big house wasn't an option for USSS. The shed, an dilapidated, old pole barn-style garage, roughly 12x30 feet, was the spot for "the Secret Service guys." USSS paid rent to the Clintons and covered renovations to fit USSS' purposes.
Before this 2018 fire, the shed was the site of a mini alleged Clinton scandal-- Who is alleging? I am, as have others. Here's a balanced summary: It was well known within the Secret Service that the Clintons rented the shed out to USSS for the same amount as their mortgage. Snopes considers labels the claim "false," in the sense that the Clinton's didn't "charge rent" but in its explanation explains its USSS standard procedure to compensate rented space-- so, in essence they admit its true! The values are disputed, but could the Clintons have afforded the abode if not for USSS' garaunteed taxpayer rent? It's unknown BUT this was 100% believed to be true by many within the Secret Service. It had an impact on morale as we protected the Clintons; we believed that USSS was being used to pay for the Clintons carpetbagging in New York state. Like many scandals, it is the lack of transparency that feeds the beast and all the while the shed was unfit for any working man or woman.
In comparison, Pres. HW Bush made more personal gestures of his appreciation and he had a more profound impact on morale; he renovated the USSS quarters at his oceanfront Maine property, refused payment for it. While USSS was much obliged, in fairness, The Treasury Department, which USSS was under at the time, was often very concerned about suspected improprieties and, if I recall, Pres. HW Bush paid for new construction of the USSS facility, while, to my knowledge, USSS paid zero rent.
The Treasury wanted USSS to be worthy of USSS' motto "worthy of trust and confidence." Therefore, the Treasury often rebuked the offers of good samaritans that refused to accept a USSS government payments. Often while on the job and in uniform, we would eat at diners and the humble restaurant owner would refuse payment. We would insist for fear anyone think it was some sort of elaborate bribe. In these situations, a standoff would ensue just like two close friends might argue over who's paying for a dinner bill.
But this is also where the problems for that little Secret Service Chappaqua ad-hoc compound compounded. Whatever the rental agreement, due to USSS upper level and Clintons' misgivings, a proper working environment (up to OSHA standards would have been nice), was never crafted and it went without air conditioning or heat! The Secret Service pumped that Chappaqua structure with tons of electricity, wires, etc. As the shed leaked like a siv and as temperatures dropped, out came the heater buddies. It was a giant fire hazard!
Compared to other presidents, the setup was a mixed bag. At the Bush ranch, the air conditioned and heated quarters were very amenable. And yet, the stories of old setups were far worse. USSS Chief Urbanus Baughman, in his 1963 memoir, Secret Service Chief, detailed how USSS agents, to protect a First Family member's home, lived, went to the bathroom, and operated out of an Oldsmobile!
Ironically, as agent Dan Bongino details in his books, one of USSS' main jobs is to prevent the president from a fire or an attack in which fire can be a facet of the attack. In this case, USSS' presence was the location of the fire!
During my time there, as a Secret Service Uniformed Division Officer, I mostly walked around, sat around, ate pizza, and did a bunch of radio checks-- It was a reprieve from the crazy West Wing where I was permanently posted. Then, when the the president moved, we moved with him. It was a calm dread accompanying the agents with my hand held metal detector various layers of protection, which we called "concentric layers of protection." If the President wanted to enter a coffee shop, USSS would let him, while holding their breadth. We wanded for guns and did behavioral profiling, but without the normal procedures we were rolling the dice on protection as the President mulled about town.
Too often the Secret Service pads the wide-open gaps in its protection plans and lack of alertness in its exhausted agents with guess what? Luck. And that structure was always a fire hazard because of poor management that never prioritized its improvements, especially when they should realize USSS would be protecting the Clintons for the rest of their lives, as they're entitled to by law.
I hope things have changed following the Clintons' 2016 acquisition of an adjacent property, but the fire indicates nothing has changed.
And lets pretend I'm the biggest advocate of the Clintons...
this is a great example of an epiphany that emerged in recent years: the Secret Service's unprofessionalism can and is being used to distract, disrupt, and politically assassinate the politicians they protect. As soon as word of fire at the Chappaqua residence erupted, the rumor mills buzzed and amateur twitter comedians laughed at the prospect one of the Clinton paper (or email server) shredders was so overheated (in the face of yet another criminal investigation) that the shredders caught fire. I made the same joke to my family in the 1990's giving them a tour of the White House! Just like President Obama's trip to Cartegena Columbia was undermined by Secret Service agents partaking of prostitution, too often presidents are being undermined by their protector's impropriety.
As I detail in Secrets of the Secret Service, Candidate Hillary Clinton was all too willing to jeopardize Secret Service protection with her scooby-doo van. It was unarmored and could have been made into swiss cheese by such an assassin that had nearly killed President Ronald Reagan outside the Hinkley Hotel. But it takes two to tango, and she couldn't have done it without the Secret Service capitulating to so many of her demands.
While this fire is probably nothing, another silly anecdote that captures the imaginations of the easily distracted media, for me, the real story I want to know is what are the working conditions like for the Secret Service still at Chappaqua? I emphasize "still." While some politicians adore having protection for themselves while disarming Americans and decrying the struggles of the working man, I remember that rundown shack we had to put up with and pay for to protect the Clintons. I remember it. The fact that it caught fire and spurred a full on response by the fire department doesn't surprise me a bit! So, for the love of all that is holy can we focus on problems before they engulf us in red hot smoke and flames? How many outlets jumped on the story of a fire at the Clinton residence, when all the while, as I detail in Secrets of the Secret Service, the Secret Service is "collapsing"-- their word-- and rotting from the inside out.
Can we focus on the real "fire and fury?" Look no further than the Secret Service.