Can Secret Service employ private citizens? Why Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins' ‘VIP pass’ claim could be false
Secret Service claims no private members were engaged in security, as is protocol. So why did Watkins claim the contrary?
Jessica Watkins, the leader of the right-wing group Oath Keepers, has claimed she was at the January 6 insurrection to provide security. In a new filing in court, Watkin's attorney said that she was there to provide 'VIP protection' and met with Secret Service agents. The Service has denied the claims, raising more questions about the competence of the Trump administration.
In the filing, the former army ranger claimed she "was present not as an insurrectionist, but to provide security to the speakers at the rally, to provide escort for the legislators and others to march to the Capitol as directed by the then-President."
The filing further goes on to say that Watkins met with Secret Service agents and was given a VIP pass to the rally. Responding to the filing, the Secret Service told CNN: "Any assertion that the Secret Service employed private citizens to perform those functions is false."
Whose job is it really?
Providing security to the President and the first family is the role of the US Secret Service. For security purposes, the body does coordinate with other organizations such as the FBI, local and state police departments and if deployed, the National Guard. On the day of the insurrection, the Service would have coordinated with the Capitol Police, as standard procedure.
No private citizens have ever been used for the security of high-ranking politicians. In fact, if one has to join the Secret Service, it is mandatory to be between the ages of 21 and 37 (unless you have previously served in a Federal Civilian Law Enforcement position covered by special law enforcement or firefighter retirement provisions, including early or mandatory retirement or you have veteran's preference). Due to the highly secretive nature of their job, it is unclear if the Secret Service can engage with private citizens at the direction of the President.
According to the US Code that details the functions of the secret service, "no personnel and operational elements of the United States Secret Service shall report to an individual other than the Director of the United States Secret Service, who shall report directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security." In theory, that means that the President should not be able to direct how the Secret Service functions.
Can Watkin's claim change anything?
Given that information, it is very likely that Watkin's claim will not hold up in court. For one, there is no precedent for the Secret Service coordinating with private citizens. The Secret Service has also denied Watkin's allegations, making it harder for her to back her claims with witnesses or supporting documents.
It is very likely that the filing will do little to help Watkin's case, especially since the Justice Department under the Biden administration has taken a hard stance against right-wing extremism. There is also video proof of Watkins during the insurrection at the Capitol, making it harder for her to deny her role.
This claim though is extremely significant as it represents a change in direction for the defense. To date, all those prosecuted for their role in the insurrection have claimed to be doing so at the bidding of Trump, using his comments and tweets as proof that they were not bringing down the elected government. Now, it seems like they are planning to rope in other branches of the government, which could spell trouble for all of Trump's appointees.
Trump and the Right Wing
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has argued for a 9/11 style commission to look into the events of the day. If that goes forward, that could mean even more trouble for those being prosecuted. As more details emerge, it is very likely that it will become harder for them to justify their actions. Since Trump has been acquitted by the Senate, it also becomes harder for people like Watkins to blame him for inspiring the violence.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, it is clear that Watkins' defense strategy is very much like Trump's — blame everyone else. While Trump may have escaped it seems unlikely Watkins will.
But if it turns out to be true, it does put a question mark on the Trump administration and the incidents that took place at the onset of January 2021.