White House officials had planned to clear a large area around the White House grounds before President Trump was scheduled to host China’s President Xi Jinping at a state dinner there on Thursday night, a watchdog organization confirmed to The New York Times.
But the practice of stopping traffic to accommodate a future presidential event was not practiced when President Obama was in office.
The Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that has long criticized President Trump’s short leash on the Secret Service and the use of government resources for campaign purposes, examined Secret Service records since 1993 to reveal that the practice of instructing local law enforcement to block off streets for presidential events began only after President Obama left office.
The practice of leaving traffic standing in order to let the president have a designated area for his event was criticized by members of the news media during the presidential campaign.
“We want the police to see that we care about the area they’re policing and also that there’s a president coming in,” Valerie Jarrett, who was Obama’s top White House aide, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2016.
Her comments came after reporters had blocked traffic after Mr. Obama visited a fire station in Tampa, Fla., during his presidential campaign.
Those who attended the North Lawn event on Thursday night were provided separate access to the Trumps and Xi to allow Trump to work with them privately and behind closed doors, his spokesman, Sean Spicer, said on Friday. The accommodations were done to avoid any potential incidents that might occur, Mr. Spicer said.
In the notice issued before the state dinner, Secret Service said it would execute the plan to clear the area for another event later, and as a result, it would require local law enforcement to park and run its operations.
“In case of a mass event event at night, the Secret Service needs to preserve its ability to use the long-standing, traffic pattern to provide consistent and uninterrupted access for police activities,” the Secret Service stated in a notice on its website.
Over the years, the agency issued similar notices for its annual Easter Egg Roll at the South Lawn of the White House in March and for other events, such as an inaugural parade in January, where it said it would require local law enforcement to “may park” for a potential event.
President Trump’s use of state dinners to banish protesters is a departure from the tradition the Obama administration used to hold forums on criminal justice, health care, international trade, and other issues while presidents worked privately with leaders from around the world.
The group informed the Justice Department in October that the practice of barring traffic for a presidential event raises concerns about a fair chance for protesters, and gave officials a month to address them.
In their report to DOJ, CREW cited as an example of the waste of Secret Service resources an event held in 2011 at the National Christmas Tree.
Local police were told to “may” keep traffic as it crossed Pennsylvania Avenue, by Executive Mansion because of the Obama presidency and because the location, northwest of the White House, had never been used for a protest before.
In another case, Secret Service personnel “may” have been asked to “may” keep traffic from traveling on a street as it traversed the South Lawn, north of the White House.