Ronald Kessler Talks About Breaking the Secret Service Scandal

The author and former “Post” reporter received a phone tip that kicked off a media frenzy.

By: Harry Jaffe

When a Secret Service agent phoned Ronald Kessler on April 13 and tipped him off that agents in Cartagena, Colombia, were being investigated for partying with prostitutes, he was chagrined but not surprised.

"He was one of the agents who believes the President is in jeopardy because of cost-cutting and laziness," Kessler says.

The call to Kessler was the initial tip that would lead to a media frenzy and the most serious scandal to rock the Secret Service in decades. Kessler developed his sources as the author of In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.

His first call was to the Secret Service to confirm the tip. The spokesman said there had been "misconduct" and "agents were being withdrawn from Columbia," where President Obama was scheduled to attend a summit.

Kessler's next move was to e-mail Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Washington Post. He immediately called and outlined his scoop.

"I gave it to him directly," Kessler tells The Washingtonian. "He was really excited. I said, 'You can have the story. Just credit me.'"

The Post broke the story the next day and noted in the seventh paragraph that it was "alerted to the investigation" by Kessler.

Kessler, 68, is the chief Washington correspondent for Newsmax, a conservative website. So why slip the tip to the Washington Post?

"Newsmax lets me work with other media," he says, "and the Post, where I still have a relationship, has greater impact and has become a fair and trustworthy paper under Katharine Weymouth and Marcus Brauchli.

"I have a relationship with the paper," he adds. "I wouldn't call it loyalty."

Kessler worked as a reporter at the Post from 1970 to 1985. Since leaving the Post he's written a number of best-selling nonfiction books, as well as writing for Newsmax.

Once the story broke, Kessler did more than 100 interviews and appearances, including all three network nightly news shows, the Today show, and a Telemundo show.

"It's been wild," he says.

Reaction from the agency has been mixed.

"Many agents I talked to are thanking me," he says. "I represent them and their causes. Other agents are very defensive and resent the bad news getting out. I'm not sure it would have become public if that agent had not called me."

Kessler's Secret Service book came out in 2009. He's maintained ties with many agents, and he's worried.

"On one hand the agents are very brave and dedicated. They would take a bullet for the President," he says. "Then there's the Secret Service management. They say they can make do with less, the agency is the greatest, and everything is fine." But, he says, "it's not fine--the agency does not back its agents."

Kessler says Secret Service agents make do with inferior firearms and less training, and adds, "It could result in an assassination."

This post has been updated from an earlier version. We apologize for any confusion.