The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nearly 900 Secret Service members were infected with the coronavirus. A watchdog blames Trump.

Then-president Donald Trump, followed by a member of the U.S. Secret Service, walks to board Marine One and depart from the South Lawn at the White House on July 31. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Almost 900 Secret Service members have tested positive for the coronavirus since March 2020, according to a watchdog report, and many of those infected had protection assignments that included the safety of the president and vice president.

The nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington published a report Tuesday detailing how 881 Secret Service employees had tested positive between March 1, 2020 and March 9, 2021. The data, which came from a Freedom of Information Act request to the Secret Service, found that 477 members of the special agent division had been infected. Described by the Department of Homeland Security as “the elite agents you see protecting the President and Vice President,” special agents are also responsible for a number of safety assignments overseas and in the United States, such as protecting the president and vice president’s families, presidential candidates and visiting foreign leaders.

CREW said it’s unclear “whom the special agents who tested positive were assigned to protect or when, exactly, they tested positive.”

While the data does not give a breakdown of coronavirus infections between the two administrations during this period, the watchdog placed much of the blame on former president Donald Trump and former vice president Mike Pence for holding “large-scale rallies against public health guidelines.”

The group also slammed the Trump family’s regular travel during the pandemic and Trump’s photo op last year outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “in a car with secret service agents while being treated for COVID, further putting agents in danger.”

“It’s impossible to overstate the risk the Trump administration put on Secret Service agents,” CREW wrote.

Neither Trump spokesman Jason Miller nor representatives with the White House immediately returned requests for comment.

Secret Service spokeswoman Cathy L. Milhoan confirmed to The Washington Post on Wednesday that nearly 900 agency personnel had tested positive for the coronavirus. Milhoan stressed that the health and welfare of its members is “a top priority for the Secret Service,” noting the agency’s vast coronavirus testing program is mandatory for all personnel.

“The Secret Service’s essential law enforcement mission required agency employees to remain in continuous contact with the public during the pandemic. This included law enforcement operations at campaign events, during mass gatherings near the White House, and at multiple National Special Security Events — to include the Presidential Inauguration,” she said in a statement. “Although their jobs required significant public interaction during a public health crisis, the dedicated employees of the Secret Service performed their duties with honor and distinction.”

The report is the latest window into how the spread of the coronavirus disrupted the security team during the Trump administration and Trump campaign events where many attendees did not wear masks.

The Post previously reported that more than 130 Secret Service officers — roughly 10 percent of the agency’s core security team — who helped protect the White House and Trump when he traveled had been ordered to isolate or quarantine because they tested positive for the coronavirus or had close contact with infected co-workers. Trump’s insistence on holding public events — such as his Tulsa rally — while the pandemic was in full force last year left the Secret Service dealing with coronavirus cases in the aftermath of his travel blitz.

“Never before has the Secret Service run up against a president so intent on putting himself first regardless of the costs, including to those around him,” Ned Price, a national security expert and former CIA analyst, said to The Post in August.

President Biden, who was assigned Secret Service protection in March 2020, also had campaign stops last year, but the events were restricted to much smaller numbers compared with Trump’s rallies.

Secret Service copes with coronavirus cases in aftermath of Trump appearances

Though Trump administration officials had said they took “every case seriously,” the watchdog report said Tuesday that the former president had put Secret Service members at greater risk of infection by holding public events during the pandemic.

“With the pandemic raging during the campaign, Trump appeared to be deliberately putting the lives of Secret Service agents at risk in order to portray himself as tougher than the coronavirus,” CREW said.

Joseph Cuffari, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, blocked investigations proposed by career Secret Service staff last year to scrutinize the spread of the coronavirus in its ranks. Cuffari, a Trump appointee who is the chief federal watchdog for the Secret Service, ultimately shelved a probe into whether the agency flouted federal protocols put in place to detect and reduce the spread of the coronavirus within its workforce, according to records obtained and shared by the Project On Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group.

DHS watchdog declined to pursue investigations into Secret Service during Trump administration, documents show

CREW, which pointed out that the Trump family took 12 times as many protected trips as the Obama family, noted how Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had at least $33,000 in Secret Service protection when they traveled to the family’s Bedminster, N.J., club in April 2020 “despite government guidance against unnecessary travel to slow the spread of coronavirus.”

The Post previously reported how the federal government had been spending $3,000 a month to rent a basement studio from a neighbor of the Kushner family so that the couple’s Secret Service detail could go to the bathroom.

The $3,000-a-month toilet for the Ivanka Trump/Jared Kushner Secret Service detail

The nonprofit also reflected on Pence’s ski trip to Vail, Colo., in December that reportedly put “at least 48 agents at risk of infection” and cost taxpayers more than $750,000 in Secret Service protection.

The Biden administration has largely differed from its predecessor in terms of covid protocols at the White House and public events. The White House announced in March that while mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and regular coronavirus testing protocols remained in place at the White House, staff working in-person no longer needed to be tested daily because of the uptick in vaccinations.

Milhoan maintained to The Post that the Secret Service has been “fully prepared and staffed to successfully meet these challenges” throughout the pandemic.

“The Secret Service continues to monitor the ongoing pandemic and has taken all appropriate precautions to protect and equip its workforce,” she said.

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

Read more:

Dozens of Secret Service officers and agents told to self-quarantine after Trump’s Tulsa rally

Trump’s businesses charged Secret Service more than $1.1 million, including for rooms in club shuttered by pandemic

The Secret Service has protected Trump family members on 4,000 trips in three years