Despite a spate of White House security breaches and other attention-grabbing stunts, there has been no change in the number of threats to directed at President Trump during his first five months in office as compared to his predecessor Barack Obama, according to the Secret Service.
On average, agents have been pursuing six to eight threat reports each day, the new Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles told reporters Thursday.
That number that has remained relatively consistent for the past decade, regardless of the officeholder, the retired Marine Corps major general said in his first briefing since his appointment by Trump in April.
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The remarks come as the agency was confronted just this week with a grim stunt organized by actress Kathy Griffin who was photographed holding a fake, severed head in the image of Trump. Griffin's actions, which drew direct rebukes from Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, has set in motion a formal investigation. The Secret Service will question the actress.
And on consecutive days in Washington, a man was stopped by officers attempting scale a bike rack ringing the perimeter of the White House on Tuesday, while agents assisted in the arrest of man on weapons offenses at the nearby Trump International Hotel one day later.
Alles, the first director selected from outside the agency in 70 years, did acknowledge however that the size of the current president's family and his multiple residences have placed added "stress'' on the agency's protective division which has carried a crushing workload since Pope Francis' 2015 visit to the U.S. The visit, which required an enormous security operation, was followed quickly by a contentious election season and January's inauguration.
"There are more places we have to protect by statute,'' Alles said, referring to Trump's frequent retreats in Florida, New Jersey and his home located in Manhattan's Trump Tower. "That and the fact that he has a large family. That's just more stress on the organization. We recognize that. It's not something I have any flexibility on.
"I can't change the size of the president's family,'' Alles said, chuckling. "Nor will I attempt to do that.''
Just 38 days on the job, Alles did outline an ambitious agenda to increase the size of the agency from its current 6,800 agents and uniform officers to 9,500 by 2025. The bolstered force is needed, he said, to improve persistent morale problems caused by unpredictable staffing demands and limited funds to pay overtime.
In October, USA TODAY reported that slightly more than 1,000 agents – about a third of the agent workforce – had maxed out annual overtime and salary allowances. Many of them had reached their limits in June and were not eligible for overtime during the national political conventions, which the agency secures.
The disclosure prompted Congress to approve additional funding to cover the overtime costs, but that fix only applied to last year's overtime expenditures.
Unless Congress approves a permanent fix, Alles said a "couple hundred'' agents and officers will max out their pay allowances this year.
"The mission is inflexible,'' the director said.
With the agency dogged in recent years by a series of security breaches, some lawmakers have called for the agency to shed its responsibilities for counterfeiting, cyber crime and child exploitation investigations to focus solely on its protective mission.
Past directors have resisted those proposals and Alles said he would, too.
He said the agency's investigative responsibilities were "integral'' to building relationships with local law enforcement agencies that also assist the Secret Service's protective mission when the president and others travel outside Washington.
Alles also expressed concern that if the agency's investigative responsibilities were removed, the enforcement of counterfeiting, some financial cyber crimes and child sex abuse would "go undone.''