National Security

Secret Service: Optics of Trump greeting supporters outside Walter Reed wasn't a factor

Secret Service Director James Murray told lawmakers Thursday that the agency doesn't get involved "from an optical standpoint" when asked about former President Trump leaving his hospital room in October and waving to supporters from a motorcade while he was undergoing treatment for COVID-19.

The White House and doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center had signed off on Trump's outing, Murray said, adding that the Secret Service doesn't weigh in on the optics of such events.

"There was extensive conversation about that with the medical professionals in the White House Medical Unit and the medical professionals at Walter Reed. Ultimately, the decision was that it could be achieved," Murray said in response to a question from Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) during a House Appropriations Committee hearing.

"The Secret Service, it's inherently a dangerous job for sure. And we are in the business of making an assessment as to whether a particular operation can be achieved. We really don't get involved in whether it should or shouldn't be achieved from an optical standpoint," he said, adding that the two agents in the car with Trump were wearing medical-grade personal protective equipment.

Trump was being treated for the coronavirus when he was seen in his motorcade, maskless, with two Secret Service agents in the car.

One high-ranking Walter Reed official at the time called Trump's outing irresponsible.

"That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding," James Phillips, attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted shortly after the ride.

"Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater," he added.

Price on Thursday inquired about steps taken to minimize the health risks for Secret Service agents.

"I understand that the Secret Service has no choice but to salute and offer protection whatever the circumstances. I appreciate that and of course that's part of the service and part of the sacrifice that we admire," Price said.

"On the other hand, there should be some advisory role ... some assessment of the kind of dangers to which your agents were exposed and to what extent those just come with the territory, and the extent to which there ought to be some kind of process for minimizing these dangers," he continued.

Murray said the agency's goal is to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines "and then some."

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