With Donald Trump filing lawsuits, claiming electoral fraud, and asserting that he won the Tuesday election that appears likely to be called in favor of Joe Biden, Washington’s attention has focused on an improbable subject: What happens if the 45th president doesn’t leave? Biden’s camp, which has otherwise spent the week urging calm, issued a blunt statement this morning: “As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
In fact, some observers have been playing out this very scenario since well before the president’s furious post-election tweetstorms. If a defeated Trump were squatting in the Oval Office after the stroke of noon on January 20, “the successor could direct federal agents to forcibly remove Trump from the White House,” former US attorney Barbara McQuade wrote in The Atlantic earlier this year. “Now a private citizen, Trump would no longer be immune from criminal prosecution, and could be arrested and charged with trespassing in the White House.”
But what exactly does “escorting trespassers out of the White House” look like? In an old, post-9/11 West Wing episode, the protocol for a security breach involved picking up a bright red telephone labeled “CRASH.” In real life, the inner workings of the procedures for ejecting unwanted visitors are details that the Secret Service would likely want to keep, well, secret. Yet in recent years, they’ve actually had quite a bit of experience showing people—from fence-climbers to employees who overstayed their welcome—the door. Some recent cases:
Alexander Vindman, February 2020
The Lieutenant Colonel who was the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert testified in the impeachment hearings against Trump. The president waited a cool 48 hours after the Senate acquittal to fire Vindman and Vindman’s twin brother, who also worked on the NSC. Vindman was “marched out of the White House by security guards,” according to the New York Times.
John McEntee, March 2018
Trump’s personal assistant McEntee was fired after facing a Department of Homeland Security investigation into financial crime charges. He was escorted from the White House and walked straight into a Trump campaign job.
Omarosa Manigault Newman, December 2017
She worked in the Trump administration as the communications director for the Office of Public Liaison, though no one really knew what she exactly did. In an exit made for reality TV, Newman was reportedly dramatically escorted off the property cursing and screaming. After she was fired by then-presidential chief of staff John Kelly, she tried to enter the residence so she could speak with Trump. The Hill reported that her actions set off White House security alarms, though the Secret Service later said they were not involved in removing her. (Soon after, Newman told Good Morning America that these reports of her being fired and unceremoniously ejected weren’t true.)
Marci Anderson Wahl, March 2017
Wahl tried scaling the White House barrier late one night but ended up stuck dangling from her shoe laces, which had gotten tangled on the top of the fence. That’s where the Secret Service found her.
Joseph Caputo, November 2015
Caputo draped himself in the American flag and topped the White House fence while the Obamas were celebrating Thanksgiving indoors. Despite the iron spikes (which were added after there were five jumper incidents in 2014), Caputo made it over and was quickly apprehended.
Dominic Adesanya, October 2014
Adesanya was a 23-year-old from Bel Air, Maryland who struggled with mental health issues and, according to his father, he was attempting to ask President Obama for help. After Adesanya jumped the fence, two Secret Service K-9 dogs named Hurricane and Jordan attacked and subdued him.
Omar Gonzalez, September 2014
In one of the scarier intruder alerts, Iraq war veteran Omar Gonzalez successfully jumped the fence and ran into the White House through the front door. Carrying a small folding knife, Gonzalez got past the Secret Service agent at the door and made it into the East Room, where he was tackled and apprehended by another agent. The major breach led to a shakeup at the agency and the then-director Julia Pierson resigned.
Jeffrey Grossman, September 2014
Carrying a Pikachu doll and sporting a matching hat, Grossman scaled the fence and made it onto the north lawn. Agents arrested him without any electrifying drama.
Unnamed boy, August 2014
Yes, even kids have snuck onto the White House grounds. One toddler squeezed through the fence’s iron bars and successfully walked on the lawn, causing a White House lockdown and delaying Obama’s TV briefing. Agents reunited the boy with his parents, and, according to the Daily News, one Secret Service spokesman later joked, “We were going to wait until he learned to talk to question him, but in lieu of that he got a timeout and was sent on his way with his parents.”
Tareq and Michaele Salahi, November 2009
This famous couple of Virginia trespassers went undetected after they crashed Obama’s first state dinner. The Salahis weren’t just allowed into the executive mansion—they shook hands with the president and met then Vice President Joe Biden, too, before leaving as the dinner was about to start. Yet the Secret Service agents found out after the fact, when Michaele Salahi actually posted pictures of herself with prominent guests on her Facebook just hours after leaving.
Of course, the Salahis’ ability to avoid being frog-marched to the exits was a byproduct of their being, well, nobodies—generic party-guest types hiding in plain site. For Donald Trump, going unrecognized might feel like a fate worse than losing an election.