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SAFETY MATTERS

McCain Holds Off on Secret Service Protection

Sen. John McCain shakes hands after a town-hall meeting Exeter, N.H. McCain has private security guards but so far has declined Secret Service protection.
Sen. John McCain shakes hands after a town-hall meeting Exeter, N.H. McCain has private security guards but so far has declined Secret Service protection. (By Darren Mccollester -- Getty Images)

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By Michael D. Shear and Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 4, 2008

Weeks after clinching the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still has no Secret Service protection and has not requested it, the head of the agency told Congress yesterday.

Director Mark Sullivan said the Secret Service does not provide agents, metal detectors, vehicles or other security measures to candidates until they ask for them. McCain's Democratic rivals, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) have round-the-clock Secret Service coverage.

"Statutorily he is not required to take protection," Sullivan said of McCain, in response to several questions from Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez (D-Tex.) and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.). "As far as an actual request, we have not gotten one. We have no involvement at this point."

Rodriguez said he assumed that McCain's status as the presumptive Republican nominee required enhanced security and was surprised that McCain is allowed to campaign in large crowds without Secret Service protection.

"I just assumed that even if someone doesn't ask, that there are certain other levels of protection that are out there," said Rodriguez, who attended yesterday's hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security. "I just assumed that we would normally just do that automatically. . . . He's the nominee of the Republican Party, and we ought to have some levels of protection."

Obama began receiving protection in May 2007, 18 months before the election. Clinton already had protection because she is a former first lady.

Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser, would not discuss the senator's security measures. Another top McCain aide said the campaign is "very unhappy" with Sullivan and wishes "he would have asked to answer [the lawmakers' questions] in a closed session."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto also declined to comment, saying: "We will let the Secret Service answer those questions. They obviously take their protective mission seriously." Jim Mackin, a Secret Service spokesman, declined to comment on why Sullivan made the disclosure in a public hearing.

McCain's choice not to request Secret Service protection has been mentioned on some blogs and was the subject of an article in the Arizona Republic newspaper. But it has not been reported by most news organizations, in part because of requests from his aides not to draw attention to the situation.

McCain does have private bodyguards who accompany him to events. When he travels on charter planes, reporters and staffers are screened by private security each time they board.

On one recent flight in Mississippi, a bomb-sniffing dog swept through the press bus before reporters were allowed to board McCain's Jet Blue charter.

But that level of security pales in comparison with the protection at Clinton and Obama campaign events, where Secret Service agents always are very visible, shadowing the Democratic candidates even when they are at rope lines with voters.


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