Thursday, June 13, 2024

Trump’s Wilmington visit was a hastily planned affair, emails show

President Donald Trump and security detail at the Wilmington International Airport. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — According to emails passed between secret service agents and local law enforcement officers in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s visit to Wilmington earlier this month, Trump’s trip was a rushed affair, and coordinated in a more hasty manner than is usual for high profile White House excursions. 

Trump was in Wilmington on Wednesday, Sept. 2, to declare Wilmington as the nation’s first World War II Heritage City. His brief time in Wilmington was split between delivering ceremonial remarks at the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina, and a more informal, rally-like encounter with the crowd that gathered to see Air Force One land at the airport. 

‘Short notice’

Security for Trump’s appearance for supporters at the Wilmington International Airport. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

On the Friday before Trump was in Wilmington, a senior special agent at the Secret Service’s Wilmington Resident Office wrote an email to at least 30 people — a mix of secret service agents, Wilmington Police representatives, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office people, and others — and told them: 

“All, under normal conditions we would have a traditional police/public safety meeting to discuss the President’s visit to Wilmington, NC on 9/2/20. However, due to COVID 19, as well as the short notice of this visit, we will not have a meeting,” he wrote. 

He listed the names and numbers for a collective of agents from the “Presidential Protection Division,” that serve roles like “intelligence,” “countersniper,” and “HAMMER” (chemical and biological concerns), and urged everyone to reach out to the people who they individually need to coordinate with to make the presidential visit happen. 

“As of this writing, the site(s) in an around Wilmington have not been confirmed. Please reach out to each other and coordinate meetings/plans as more becomes known,” the secret service agent’s email said. 

In a separate email to David Oyler, assistant Wilmington police chief, a different secret service agent wrote: “We usually have a Police meeting to introduce everyone on the USSS [United States Secret Service] Advance Team, but due to the late arrival of the team to Wilmington and COVID concerns, it did not seem practical to try to schedule a meeting today.”

Sheriff’s Office

After speaking with hundreds of fans at the Wilmington International Airport, President Trump headed to the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO) led the presidential motorcade, which took Trump from the airport to the battleship, and then back, and they also had a hand in coordinating with different niches of secret service operations, like the counterassault team and the countersniper. 

“Well I mean, it was difficult simply because we only got a couple of days notice,” NHCSO spokesperson Jerry Brewer said. “But this wasn’t the first time we had worked with the secret service.”

Brewer pushed back on the idea that there weren’t any advance meetings between the secret service and local authorities. 

“Was there a sit down meeting with all the department heads and things? No, but was there meetings that went on with the specific duties of certain areas? Yes,” he said.

He said despite the lack of a mass, all-hands-on-deck style advance meeting, the necessary discussions were held and the secret service effectively communicated their plan for the day. 

“There was probably less face-to-face meetings,” Brewer said. “But ultimately there were meetings that, at least once they got here, we would meet with them and go over everything that would be taking place.” 

‘This is not typically how we do business’

Preparation started ramping up on Monday, Aug. 31, two days before Air Force One touched down at ILM and united Trump with a crowd of (mostly) adoring fans in the intense heat of the airport tarmac. Secret Service agents told local law enforcement the command post for the day would be stationed at the Wilmington outpost of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, by the laser tag warehouse near the airport. 

On the same day, the New Hanover County assistant emergency management director reached out to a county communications staffer. “From the EM side, we have no information on timing, road closures, radio or other communications or outreach needs,” she wrote. “In the meantime we are ready to activate the EOC [emergency operations center] as needed or to help coordinate resources in the worst-case scenario.” 

Steven Still, the county’s director of emergency management, provided a statement via email: “From my perspective, we were ready locally and were able to coordinate with the federal agencies involved on this fast-paced, important visit,” part of it read. 

For the ceremonious designation of Wilmington as a WWII Heritage City — the ostensible reason for the trip that allowed the White House to bill the excursion to taxpayers, rather than to the president’s re-election campaign — a few local politicians secured invitations, but weren’t included as part of the shortlist of official guests, which included members of the Trump administration, Republican members of Congress from North Carolina, and six WWII veterans.

The White House declined to provide a list of other invitees, however, local elected officials who appeared at the battleship event included both Democrats and Republicans. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and Councilman Charlie Rivenbark, both registered Democrats, both secured invites, but Council members Kevin O’Grady and Kevin Spears, also both Democrats, apparently did not. New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olsen-Boseman, a Democrat, and Commissioner Woody White, a Republican, also attended the event.

When Trump finished the day’s festivities, the NHCSO-led motorcade guided the President and his entourage back to the airport, where Air Force One waited. No complications or hiccups appeared to impact the day’s proceedings. 

“Gentlemen, Thank you for your much needed assistance in the visit of President Trump to Wilmington yesterday,” wrote the senior special agent of the USSS Wilmington resident Office in an email to WPD leaders, on the day following Trump’s visit. “This was not easy, due to the late notification of the visit and the White House staff delaying decisions on the sequence of events at the venue.”

“I apologize for some of the late requests and/or scattered requests for support. This is not typically how we do business, however with the inability to have true Police Meeting and introduce the different Secret Service advance team members to their appropriate local counterparts, this was the result. Many of our advance team members were unable to travel to Wilmington until the weekend and therefore were playing catch up. Advances are usually given a full seven days to allow for coordination/de-confliction, but this one was condensed to about 4 days.”

In an email statement, the Secret Service said they will not discuss protective operations. 

“The U.S. Secret Service continues to methodically assess the unique requirements necessary to operate in the ongoing pandemic environment. The agency takes all appropriate precautions to protect our workforce, our protectees, and the public from exposure to COVID-19. Precautions include, but are not limited to, maintaining appropriate social distancing, the provision and use of PPE, routine testing when appropriate, whether before, during, or after official travel, or as individualized situations and potential exposure necessitates. The U.S. Secret Service remains prepared and staffed to fulfill all of the various duties as required,” the statement said.

[Editor’s note: In deference to security concerns, some details of the emails from the Secret Service, including the names of agents, were not included in this article.]

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