Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript to Ronald Kessler’s address at the Freedom Center’s Dec. 10, 2014, gathering of the Wednesday Morning Club.
To order Ronald Kessler’s “The First Family Detail,” click here.
Ronald Kessler: Thank you so much for having me. And it’s a real honor to be with such sophisticated people who understand everything, know everything.
And as you can tell from the titles of my books, I like to probe secret organizations, secret subjects. And this sometimes gets me into trouble.
One of my books, called “Moscow Station,” revealed that a KGB archivist had defected from Russia to the FBI. And I knew that he was safe, and revealing this would not jeopardize him. But nevertheless, the FBI started a leak investigation. And I heard about it from the inside. I heard the agents were going to come out and try to interview me.
And I went through in my mind how I would greet them – I would offer them coffee, I would schmooze them. And of course, I would try to develop them as sources.
And a few days later, I was in my house in Potomac, Maryland, which is a quiet suburb; very few people ring the bell. And I had this idea – since I’ve written so many books about the FBI, and covered it for so long, and interviewed so many agents, that I have an idea of what FBI agents look like, which is pretty silly.
But nevertheless, the bell rang, I opened the door. And there were these two very intense-looking young men with narrow ties, white shirts. And I said – well, where have you guys been? I’ve been expecting you, come on in.
And they looked at me a little – almost a little afraid, a little strangely. And they held out these pamphlets, the “The Watchtower.”
I like a challenge. The fact that these are secret organizations, and also very important organizations that can engage in abuses that are so important to our national security – all that attracts me. And in the case of the Secret Service, it is really the most secret of all the organizations, even more so than the CIA or the FBI, both of which I’ve written about.
And I began with a tip about mismanagement by the Secret Service. And then, as I got into it, I found that was really the tip of the iceberg. But at the same time, I got the cooperation of the Secret Service. I think they felt that I would tell an honest story, which is what I try to do.
For example, with the FBI, when they do good, as they have since 9⁄11 – we have not had a successful foreign terrorist attack since 9⁄11, and it’s largely because of the FBI that I say that. And that is unusual in journalism today, even though I’m actually much younger than Michael thinks.
But on the other hand, when they engage in abuses, I reveal that. In the case of the FBI, I revealed that William Sessions, the FBI director, had been engaging in abuses of all kinds, and I exposed that. And that led to his dismissal by President Clinton.
In the case of the Secret Service books, I’ve now written two. They both reveal the deficiencies in the agency and also what agents see behind the scenes. I know this is too tawdry for all of you to hear, but there’s quite a bit that they see.
For example, actually before the first chapter, I began with a prologue which reveals that Bill Clinton has a mistress who has been unofficially codenamed by agents “Energizer.”
And Energizer was chosen because the first letter of every family’s codename is always the same. So in the case of the Clintons, Bill is “Eagle,” and Hillary is “Evergreen.“ And so the mistress, busty blonde mistress, became “Energizer.”
And as soon as Hillary leaves the home in Chappaqua, Energizer shows up. Unlike Hillary, who’s so nasty to agents that being assigned to her detail is considered a form of punishment –
— the mistress is very nice to agents. She’ll even bring them cookies sometimes.
One day, during the summer, she brought cookies, she drove up to the gate. The agents are instructed not to ever ask for her ID or log her in, whereas even Clinton relatives have to be logged in. And she held out this platter of cookies through the window of her vehicle to the agent. And he noticed that she was wearing a low-cut tank top. And he described in great detail her breasts, that they’re enhanced. There was no question in his mind. And so we have every single detail in this book, “The First Family Detail.”
In the case of Hillary, she’ll just make life miserable for agents. She’ll blow up at them. They can never do anything right. She’ll even complain when the limousine goes over a bump in the road. Being assigned is considered the worst assignment in the Secret Service to be assigned to Hillary’s detail.
And so yes, these stories are titillating; yes, they’re revealing. But they also tell you something about our leaders and who we should be electing for President. Should we elect someone who treats other people in such a shabby way, who at the same time claims to be compassionate, to care about the little people? She’s going to be a champion of the middle class? And yet, she cannot treat agents who are there to protect her, and even take a bullet to protect her, with decency.
And people just, you know, sort of ignore this. They look at how well someone speaks, they look at what someone promises. They’ll ignore the track record – for example, the fact that President Obama spent 20 years listening to the anti-white, anti-America, anti-Israel rantings of Reverend Wright. People just – you know, they’re in denial.
My most liberal friends, my most liberal family members, say they would’ve walked out if they’d heard that, in any situation. And yet, Obama exposed his kids to that, as well as, of course, Michelle, who was even more entranced by Reverend Wright.
Joe Biden – he goes back to his home in Wilmington several times a week on Air Force Two. And that has cost our taxpayers $1 million since he took office. And this is in the book. I got it from the Air Force under the Freedom of Information Act. And yet, nobody in the mainstream media has picked this up.
You know, it’s one thing to go back home a few times a year. But he has a job in Washington, he has a home, paid for by taxpayers, in Washington, with five navy stewards who make pastries every night and cater to all of his wishes. Both homes have pools. He has no business going back and forth, sometimes even twice a day, on Air Force Two. Sometimes, he’ll even go back to Wilmington, and then come back just for the day to play golf with Obama at Andrews Air Force Base, and then go back to Wilmington.
The fact that he has a pool is intriguing. Because he has a habit of skinny dipping. And this offends female Secret Service agents. They signed up to take a bullet for the President, but not to see Joe Biden run around naked.
And on top of all that – and this is probably the worst of all – when he goes up to Wilmington, Biden instructs his agents to keep the military aide with the nuclear football for unleashing a nuclear counterstrike at least a mile behind in the motorcade. Biden, like most politicians, is fixated on his image. He wants to maintain the image of the regular Joe, working-class guy. So he doesn’t want to have a long motorcade when he goes to Wilmington.
But the result is that if Obama were taken out, we would be defenseless against a nuclear attack. Because, of course, there wouldn’t be time for the nuclear football to catch up with Biden. Height of irresponsibility. The worst judgment you can imagine. And again, the mainstream media have ignored this revelation in the book.
The book is nonpartisan. It says that Obama and his wife do treat agents with respect and consideration. On the other hand, agents have been dismayed to overhear Michelle urge her husband to be more aggressive in attacking Republicans and in siding with blacks in racial controversies, which of course we see him do over and over again.
And I think that certainly has contributed to the violence and the rioting. Because he’s essentially sanctioning the idea that we’re all racists. And of course, that goes back to Reverend Wright. That was exactly his mindset. And we’re seeing it now with President Obama.
Going back to President Johnson – he was probably the most outrageous of all. When he was Vice President, he was late for an appointment with JFK. The agent was driving him along Pennsylvania Avenue – it was rush hour. And he told his agent to drive up on the sidewalk to get there faster. Well, the sidewalk was full of people coming out of office buildings. The agent refused, of course, as he should’ve. And Johnson took a newspaper and hit this agent on the head and said – you’re fired. This is all on the record; at least half of the material in the book is on the record.
Johnson was having sex with five of his eight secretaries. One time his wife, Ladybird, caught him having sex in the Oval Office with one of his secretaries. And Johnson blew up at the Secret Service and said, you should’ve warned me, and insisted that they install a buzzer system to warn him in the future, if he was having sex and Ladybird was in the area.
He would also sit on the toilet and defecate as he’s being briefed by aids. He would give press conferences in Texas and begin urinating in front of female reporters, as well as male reporters. Of course, none of this was ever reported at the time.
The first time that the press began to report the sexual activities and other unpleasant activities of presidents and candidates was with Gary Hart, with the Donna Rice incident. But actually, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Agents who were protecting Donna Rice found that Hart’s buddy, Warren Beatty, would arrange to have these gorgeous starlets show up at Warren Beatty’s home in LA. And Hart would go there, and they’d all jump in a hot tub. Not with Warren Beatty, just the girls. And Gary Hart – they’d jump in the hot tub, the girls would undress. They’d stay overnight. And the agents would go – there’s a 10, there’s a 9, there’s a 10, there’s a 9. They were just totally overwrought by the gorgeous starlets.
Jimmy Carter, again, was this guy who pretended to be a jolly peanut farmer, a man of the people, a populist. But behind the scenes, he was so nasty to agents that he would tell them he didn’t want them to say hello to him in the morning on the way to the Oval Office. It was just too much bother to say hello back to another human being. What kind of a person is that?
And he would pretend to carry his own luggage in front of the cameras, to try to show that he’s a man of the people. But then, as soon as the cameras were gone, he would give the luggage to aides to carry, or the luggage was empty in the first place.
Carter would sometimes show up in the Oval Office at 5:00 in the morning and tell the Press Office to tell the press that he was in there working hard for the American people at 5:00 a.m. But then he’d nod off to sleep on the couch in the Oval Office.
So, you know, again and again, we fall for these charades. And the press just keeps focusing on the horserace. They don’t look at character.
That’s something that we look at in our daily lives all the time. We don’t choose a friend who would be nasty to other people, we don’t choose a new employee who would treat other people indecently. And yet, here we have people who, you know, just cannot be trusted. And it comes out eventually in their policies and in the way they interact with the country. The other side is that the – in this book – the Secret Service has become so lax, and engages in so much corner-cutting, that everywhere you look, they’re really risking an assassination.
One thing in the book that hasn’t been picked up by the press is that on a regular basis, agents under pressure from either the Bush or the Obama White House or from campaign staffs will let people into events without magnetometer or metal detection screening. It’s just like letting passengers into an airplane without doing that. And if everybody did that, they would be fired and possibly prosecuted.
But the Secret Service management – it’s the management that’s at fault, not the agents, who really are brave and dedicated; they’ll take a bullet for the President – but the management has this arrogant culture that says – we’re the great Secret Service, we can take care of any problem. We don’t have to even lock the front door of the White House. And therefore, we can let people into events without magnetometer screening.
And when I confronted a high-ranking Secret Service official about this, he hemmed and hawed. First he was saying – you know, now we have magnetometers, it’s much safer. And I said – well, what about the times when you don’t use them, when you let people in under pressure? Because there’s a line outside, and the staff says – let them in, let them in; and sure enough they let them in.
And then he started making excuses. They’re wonderful at making excuses. And he said – well, you know, if someone comes in without magnetometer screening, we keep those people further back. Well, of course, in one second, you could have five terrorists come in with grenades and run from the back of an event and take out the President. These are things that are just common sense.
And when you see what the Secret Service said after the penetration of the White House by Gonzales, which was – first of all, they lied about where he was apprehended – they said that he was stopped at the door; he actually penetrated the whole White House. They said he was not armed; that was a lie, he was armed with a knife. And then they said – the Secret Service director, Julia Pierson, said that the agents exercised tremendous restraint in not killing him. Well, is that what they’re there for, to exercise restraint?
I can tell you, FBI officials were horrified at that comment and laughing at it. Because absolutely, he could’ve had explosives, he could’ve had WMD. They wouldn’t know it until the White House was blown up. And you have to use lethal force if everything else has failed.
And why did it fail? Well, the guy who was supposed to release a canine unit, as they call them – and I did interview a canine unit when I was doing the book – they introduced me to one, and he went around and found explosives – that guy was on a personal cell phone call in his van.
But why would all this happen? Why would you have agents hiring prostitutes? Why would you have the uniform division letting the Salahis, the glamorous couple, into the White House; along with a third intruder, Carlos Allen, which is a story that I also broke – why would they be doing that? Because you have this broken management culture. And these agents say – well, management is breaking the rules. They’re taking risks with assassinations; why should we do whatever we feel like doing?
This is just basic in any organization, that if you don’t maintain the right standards at the top, the whole place is going to crumble. And that includes the infrastructure. They don’t polygraph agents the way the FBI does, they don’t have the latest intrusion devices at the White House itself.
There’s this myth that somehow if you push the perimeter of the White House gate further back, somehow we’re not going to have access to the President. Hey, nobody has access to the President, unless they have an appointment and have been cleared by the Secret Service. And I don’t see that there’s anything to be lost by pushing that perimeter back.
You could have 30 ISIL terrorists come in with grenades from all directions. And to keep the perimeter where it is now is simply asking for trouble.
The question often is asked of me – how do I get them to cooperate? Usually, I water-board them, that works pretty well.
But I think that, as I said before, I do tell an honest story. They respect that. I think it’s pretty unusual in journalism today, given all the slant that you see. And also, I’m genuinely interested in what they do. I love to hear about profiling. Before it became a nasty word, I broke the first story about FBI profiling in 1985. And I think they think I already have a lot of sources, I already know a lot. And they figure they might as well cooperate.
In my previous book, the secrets of the FBI, Bob Mueller, the FBI director, personally approved giving me access to their most secret tool, which is how they break into homes and offices to plant bugging devices – all court-authorized, of course. But it’s an incredible story. And let’s say they want to break into an embassy or some other secure location, or a mafia home, they will essentially case the joint for about two weeks beforehand. They’ll watch who goes in, who goes out.
And on the night of the break-in, they’ll have agents watch at the homes of those people to make sure they don’t go back to the premises. And if they do, oh, there’ll be a little traffic accident, or there’ll be a little ticket written. Because the agents might dress in police uniforms in order to delay anybody going back.
The agents will bring in their own dust, in case they disturb any dust on a coffee table or a desk. They will take a photo of any dog on the premises, and show that photo to a veterinarian who’s on contract. And he prescribes just the right amount of tranquilizer to shoot into the dog with a dart gun. And at the end of the break-in, they wake up the dog, because they don’t want any sleepy dogs around to create suspicion.
Let’s say they want to put bugs in an office suite. They’ll go in during the day and take control of one of the elevators; they go to elevator school. And they’ll go up on the roof of the elevator in the middle of the night, get off, go in the suite, put the bugs in. And they actually showed me a real bug, it’s about the size of a postage stamp. And it will record for 20 hours, or transmit, as you wish. And then, during the day, they’ll get back in the elevator, they’ll come back. They’ll go out wearing business suits, and nobody’s the wiser.
And then, one other technique is – let’s say they want to put a bug in a home in the middle of the night. They will take a photo of the front of the house. They’ll blow that up into a huge tarp, drape that over the front of the house, so that any bystanders walking by will think that’s the front of the house. But in fact, the agents are behind the tarp, defeating the alarms, defeating the lock systems; and they’ll put the bugs in.
And just one anecdote about this is they were to put bugs in a mafia hangout in Philadelphia. It was an electronics store that was actually a front for the mafia. And they couldn’t go – they didn’t want to go in the back door to put in bugs, because often that could be booby-trapped. So they would have to go in the front. But the front overlooked an all-night bar.
So how do they go in without being seen by the patrons? They borrowed a city bus. The agents got on the bus. They rode in front of the premises. They got out, they put the hood of the bus up to make it look as if it had broken down. They went in, they defeated the locks and the alarm systems. The bus then went around the block to pick them up.
And it went by a bus stop. And there were two patrons in the bar waiting for the bus. And the bus went whizzing by them, and they were furious. And they went running for the bus. And they got in as the agents were getting in, in front of the premises. And the agents were all from different offices, including from this secret team called Tac-Ops that puts in bugs. And they didn’t realize that these guys don’t belong with them.
So then, a few of the agents, started taking off their weapons and their pit walkie-talkies, and these guys got scared, you know. And they started ringing to get off – ding-ding-ding, let me off, let me off. And the agent who was driving the bus said – hey, guys, stop bothering me, I’m having enough trouble driving this bus.
But then, another agent got up, and he had a shotgun over his shoulder. And they started ringing again – ring, ding-ding-ding, let me off, let me off.
And finally, the agent who was driving figured out what was happening. Let them out, they went running down the street, and nobody ever heard from them again.
One other book that I did is mentioned in the New York Times today, and other publications, because the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report cites my interaction with the CIA when I did this book, “The CIA At War,” along with a New York Times reporter. So it couldn’t be too bad if a New York Times reporter was involved. And has the spin that somehow the CIA was leaking material about what they had done with the enhanced interrogation and how effective it was to me and to this New York Times reporter.
Well, the reality is I went to the CIA to get cooperation in the book. They arranged a number of interviews on a lot of subjects. Some of the interviews had to do with this. It wasn’t as if I was being bamboozled by the CIA. I corroborated what I used with the FBI. But the implication is if the White House agrees to an interview, or the CIA or another institution agrees to an interview, somehow that means you’re already being propagandized and you shouldn’t listen to anything.
And that’s in fact what this Democratic staff did. They refused to interview any of the CIA officials or officers involved in this whatsoever. And in addition, they excluded the Republicans.
So the whole thing is a joke. And what they have done is they’ve cherry-picked a few things, an email here, an email there. That’s not the way you present how an investigation proceeded, you know. If you think of gathering facts about any subject, it’s a very complex process. You know, you may be impressed by one fact, you may hear about a fact and ignore it.
That’s the way the whole Watergate investigation proceeded. I sat next to Carl Bernstein during Watergate at the Washington Post. Woodward would come over every night, and they would write their stories together. I would overhear what they were saying – they were knocking on doors until midnight. And you see some critics on the right who are claiming that they embellished what they did, that they made up Deep Throat, that they didn’t really reveal the important stories.
That is B.S. Because I was there, I saw what they did. And they never claimed that Deep Throat gave them everything, but rather every now and then, he would give them a clue. He would say – you’re on the right track. And given the fact that the reporters and the Post were really, really scared of what might happen – they were being threatened by Mitchell – this reassurance and these clues every now and then helped their investigation.
And I actually was the first to present real information indicating who Deep Throat was before he came out. I was doing another FBI book called “The Bureau.“ I went to interview Mark Felt, who turned out to be Deep Throat, in California. And his daughter greeted me and said – you know, there’s this guy, Bob Woodward, who was out here about a year ago. And he went to lunch with my father. And you know what? He came in a white limousine, but he had the limousine parked 10 blocks away, and then he walked to our house. Well, that was a tipoff right away this is Deep Throat. There’s no way Woodward would’ve done that otherwise.
And this daughter was sort of a flowerchild; she didn’t even recognize who Woodward was. She knew he was a reporter, but didn’t know anything about Watergate and whatnot.
So, I’ve been into a lot of interesting subjects. One other subject is in one of my books, just about the FBI’s counterintelligence program, the only book about how they catch spies. I interviewed Karl Koecher and his wife, Hana, in Prague after they had been caught by the FBI and returned to Czechoslovakia.
Karl was a mole in the CIA, you don’t hear much about it. But he was a very effective mole. And one of his methods, besides being a very high-level translator, was that he and his gorgeous blonde wife, Hana, would go to orgies and sex parties with White House people, Defense Department people. And of course, those people would feel compromised, because they were at these parties that they shouldn’t be attending. Because they could be blackmailed. And so they would get bits of information from them, as well as enjoying the parties.
Hana actually – Hana enjoyed the parties more than Karl.
The first part was where they refused to cooperate because of –
Audience Member: (Inaudible) was just gossip.
Ronald Kessler: Oh, yeah. Well, they are not supposed to talk about what they see behind the scenes. And that’s just an understanding. And after I revealed the prostitution scandal, they required agents to sign documents saying that they would not disclose anything.
And so, yeah, I would say the majority did not want to talk about that. But others did. And you know, it’s a legitimate point to say that maybe protectees would be a little more cautious about having agents near them if they think they’re going to reveal what they’re doing in their private lives. But the other side is – A, we should know about the character of our leaders and prospective leaders; and B, if they’re engaging in something, some kind of subterfuge which they could be blackmailed for, they shouldn’t be running for office in the first place.
And in fact, when you’re talking about having sex, the agents are not there anyway. For example, with Monica Lewinsky, she was in the Oval Office with Bill Clinton; the agents never saw what was actually happening. So that’s my, you could call it, excuse for revealing these secrets.
And of course, the other side of exposing the shortcomings, the corner-cutting, is that they could change these practices overnight. It’s not like when the AP revealed that the CIA had a source in Yemen who was telling them about prospective plots to blow up airplanes. In that case, there was not news. The CIA was doing its job. There was no abuse. There was no failure. Just the opposite – it was a success. And by compromising that source, we lost potential lives. Because that source could no longer report on what was happening. I thought that was outrageous.
But in the case of the Secret Service, they could change these practices overnight, they could stop the corner-cutting. They could ask for more money, which I think is necessary. Their budget is only $1.6 billion a year, which is the price of one stealth bomber. And yet, they not only protect the President and others, the Vice President; but they also do counterfeit investigations and other financial investigations.
So there was an expose in the classic sense, where you hope for reform. And I think it is contributing to the understanding of what’s wrong with the Secret Service. It’s not just some error here and there; it’s a culture that has to be changed. And I think the only way to do that is to bring in a director who was from the outside, such as a former high-ranking FBI official, who will shake things up, who will not be beholden to interests within the agency, who will understand that – yes, you have to polygraph agents, which is what the FBI does. And that’s my purpose in writing these books.
Audience Member: Oh, hello? Over here.
Ronald Kessler: Oh, sorry.
Audience Member: That’s okay.
You talked about the Energizer for Bill. But what about Hillary? What’s she up to?
Ronald Kessler: Yeah.
Ronald Kessler: Well, maybe she’s so nasty because she’s not up to anything, you know.
She is not up to anything. You know, there are rumors about her being a lesbian, and agents say that’s not true. But I have a whole chapter in the book about Hillary’s nastiness. It’s just unbelievable, including her chief of staff, who’s been in the news because her husband was – is Anthony Weiner. Just as nasty, you know. Do you know who I am, she would say to an agent when she doesn’t have proper ID. Just high-handed arrogance. Nasty, nasty people. It’s unbelievable.
And you know, you wonder – there are so many millions of people in this country who have qualifications that are similar, who are lawyers, who are not people who are nasty to people, and who understand that companies actually do create jobs. And she said companies don’t create jobs. You understand that you should not respect your enemies. She said we should respect our enemies. What kind of a – who would vote for anybody like that, even for dogcatcher?
You know, that’s how broken our politics is.
Audience Member: Well, I have a question, just quickly – it sort of goes to Georgette’s question – and then my real question. But does Hillary know about the Energizer?
Ronald Kessler: Well, she does now.
But, you know, agents feel that they have a political partnership, and it’s not a real marriage. And that’s why they’re staying together. That’s why she stays with Bill. You know, she’s power-hungry. That’s what she wants. And she’ll overlook all of this in order to achieve power.
Audience Member: Okay. My initial question is –
Ronald Kessler: Your real question.
Audience Member: – it became apparent after 9⁄11 that there wasn’t a lot of cooperation between the FBI and the CIA.
Ronald Kessler: Right.
Audience Member: There was a lot of rivalry and competition. So I’m wondering, has that changed? What is the state at the relations between these two agencies?
Ronald Kessler: That has totally changed. And now, if you don’t cooperate, you’re in trouble. Whereas before, it was the other way around. Part of the problem was there was the so-called wall that said that you can’t – CIA can’t talk to the FBI and vice-versa, which is just something that a bureaucrat under Janet Reno came up with. It was not based on any legal precedence whatsoever. Previous cases had gone down to appeals without any problem. But he just decided to write this, and then they all accepted it. And so they stopped talking to each other, it was unbelievable.
But now, Bush established the Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, where CIA and FBI sit side-by-side, 24 hours a day, analyzing information. So they’re talking to each other all day long now. And there is very good cooperation. And that’s one reason we have not had another attack.
Every few months, you see in the papers arrests by the FBI of terrorists. And that’s the bottom line. That’s why – that’s the result of this cooperation and the result of the FBI’s efforts and CIA’s efforts. And yet, all we hear in the press is demonizing these people, who are working to protect us, who are not paid a whole lot compared with what they could get in the private sector. And it’s just outrageous, in my opinion.
Audience Member: I would like your comments, please, on the First Ladies, the last several First Ladies, of what the agents think about them; as well as their spouses.
Ronald Kessler: Right. Well, the first First Lady that comes to mind is Pat Nixon. She had a big alcohol problem. It got worse when they left the White House. One time, at San Clemente, an agent heard rustling in the bushes at night. He cocked his shotgun. And it turned out it was Pat Nixon, totally drunk, crawling on the ground, trying to find her house.
And she and Nixon never talked. They would play golf together, but they wouldn’t say a word throughout the whole golf game.
Nixon was a very strange guy, as you might’ve surmised. One day, he was watching TV at San Clemente. An agent was watching through a window at the home. And Nixon was feeding his dog dog biscuits. And then he took one of the biscuits and put it in his mouth and ate it.
Audience Member: Oh, my God.
Ronald Kessler: Another time – you know, he loved to have fireplaces going all through the summer. And at one time, he forgot to open the damper. And so the whole house filled with black smoke. And there was something about – let’s see, how’s this go? One of the agents said – where is the son of a bitch, referring to Nixon? Didn’t know where Nixon had gone. And Nixon overheard this, you know. And Nixon said – son of a bitch is over here.
So, Nixon did have a sense of humor.
Betty Ford also had, as you know, both a drug and a drinking problem. Sometimes she would be so inebriated when she was in the White House, they’d have to actually hold her as she went out of Air Force One. Ford seemed to be oblivious to all this.
But to her credit, when she left the White House, she not only went to a rehab center, but she established the Betty Ford Clinic. And agents admire that. She’s spent a tremendous amount of time establishing that to help other people. So unlike Pat, who never helped anybody with this problem, Betty Ford did.
Ford, of course, had this reputation of being clumsy. The press beat up on him all the time. And that was another myth. He was a former high school football player. He was a remarkable skier. The Secret Service would assign their best skiers to go skiing with him in Colorado. One of the agents would ski backwards to sort of taunt him.
But on the other hand, Ford – especially after he left the White House – turned out to be incredibly cheap. He would tip caddies in California a dollar or two dollars. He would have bellhops with carts full of luggage for both of them at the Plaza New York, and he would tip a dollar. He would try to get gifts. He would try to, you know, take golf sets from people in Japan who invited him for talks. So that was the other side of Gerald Ford.
Let’s see, who else? Well, Ronald Reagan and Nancy. Ronald Reagan was just as genuine as he appeared to be on TV, just as gracious. He would – whenever he went into Air Force One, he would greet the pilots and the copilots in the cockpit. Jimmy Carter did that only once during his whole four-year term.
One day, Reagan was coming down – about to go into the elevator in the residence in the White House. And an aide came up and told him about the Donna Rice affair with Gary Hart, and it was going to be in the paper the next day. And Reagan said – well, boys will be boys. And then he went up in the elevator with this agent. And then he said to the agent – but boys will not be President.
Nancy could be cold and difficult. Of course, she was very loyal to her husband. She seemed to not like it when he would schmooze with agents. And she would give him instructions – you know, you wear your gloves, you wear your hat. And sometimes he would agree, and sometimes they would get in a fight over it.
And one time actually, at the ranch, they were about to go horseback riding, which Reagan loved to do, and she didn’t like it so much. She liked to be with her friends in Beverly Hills. And he would ring a bell for her to come out to go horseback riding. She wasn’t coming out. So he went inside. And next thing agents knew was that the telephone reception at the house, at the ranch, had stopped. And it turned out that Reagan had seen her talking to one of her friends in Beverly Hills on the phone, and just got enraged, and took the phone and threw it on the floor. And so, that was the end of the telephone connection.
So, Reagan was human, like all of us. I interviewed agents who were with him after he left office. He would make it a point of going out to schmooze with them. And then, of course, when he got Alzheimer’s, they started to notice the difference. But that was only after he left office, not when he was in the White House. He remembered the names of every agent and was, you know, the genuine article. And I think that is reflected in the success of his presidency. Because people do sense – you know, I think, even with Hillary, even without knowing what goes on behind the scenes – people do sense that she’s not a very nice person.
Any other First Ladies that you wanted to ask about?
Audience Member: The Bushes.
Ronald Kessler: Ah. Well, Laura was just beloved by agents. She would make it a point of going back to the ranch the day after Christmas Day, so that the agents could be with their families, and would ask about their families. George Bush, very similar.
Of course, he loved to go running, and the agents would have to assign their fastest runners. When his father, George H.W. Bush, was Vice President, he was in the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory. And during the day, the naval stewards, as I said, would make pastries and cookies. And then they would hide them, because the agents would come out in the middle of the night and steal some of them.
So one morning, at 3:00 a.m., one of the agents was looking for the cookies in the kitchen. And he heard this voice behind him – where are the cookies? And he turned around, it was George Bush. And so, together they went looking for the cookies.
They had them together with milk.
And Barbara Bush – same. Very decent. She would even offer to do the laundry of agents when they were up at Kennebunkport. She would make sure that agents wore hats. If they didn’t have a hat, she would insist that her husband go and get his hat and give the hat to the agent. Just very, very decent, admirable people. And we need more of those in the White House.
Unidentified Speaker: Think we have time for one last question.
Audience Member: Hi. I just would like to have your comments on what appears to me to be an increasingly governmentalized media, especially television, and how it seems to resemble Pravda more than the media I was used to.
Ronald Kessler: Yeah. You know, I’m just as perplexed as you are. I can’t understand it. It’s just a trend. You could say it’s because of more pressure because of the Internet. But that doesn’t excuse anything.
And I think the Washington Post, as Michael mentioned, has been doing a very fair job lately. It’s really turned around. And I think ultimately, that’s going to help its circulation and its pickup on the web. Because people do want to be able to trust the information that they get. New York Times, not so much. Quite the opposite.
But you know, it perplexes me. Why would Rolling Stone, for example, run the story without talking to the so-called assailants of this woman who claimed she was raped? How could anybody in his right mind not do that? You know, it’s beyond me. Maybe they’re on marijuana, I don’t know.
Unidentified Speaker: Thank you.
Ronald Kessler: Thank you.
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