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Jan. 6 committee interviews head of Trump’s Secret Service detail on day of Capitol attack

The Jan. 6 select committee has interviewed the top Secret Service agent on then-President Donald Trump’s protective detail during the Capitol attack, according to three people familiar with the probe.

Robert Engel was the special agent in charge on Jan. 6, 2021, meaning he was responsible for protecting the president from “socks on to socks off” — the whole work day. In that role, he rode from the White House to that day’s “Stop the Steal” rally with Trump in the presidential armored car called “The Beast.”

Engel was also backstage at the rally and close to the then-president throughout the day as violence unfolded when thousands of pro-Trump rally participants marched to the Capitol to try to disrupt congressional certification of the 2020 election.

Because of that work, Engel has detailed insight on a key select committee focus: how the Secret Service handled the day’s chaos.

A Secret Service spokesperson said the agency has cooperated fully with the committee probe.

“Every single member of the Secret Service who was requested by the committee has been provided to them,” said Anthony Guglielmi, the agency’s communications chief. “We fully support and are cooperating with the committee’s work. Employees, documentation, whatever is requested by the committee, we have cooperated with.”

A Jan. 6 select panel spokesperson declined to comment.

Secret Service agents generally feel deep discomfort when fielding investigators’ questions about their protectees. That’s because they can’t protect those people without significant trust in the relationship. And the prospect of investigators demanding closely held details about those protectees can generate concerns.

Jeffrey Robinson, who co-authored a book with a former Secret Service agent about that agent’s work, said in an interview that investigators’ interviews with Secret Service agents can potentially create “a violation of the trust that has to be built up between the protectors and the protectee.” But, he added, the committee’s move still makes sense.

“It would be negligent if they didn’t, and also Pence’s detail,” Robinson said. “They have to. These are direct witnesses.”

Engel was closely involved in talks about whether or not Trump himself could go to the Capitol after the rally. In the days leading up to the “Stop the Steal” rally, according to a Secret Service official, White House staff asked Tony Ornato — then temporarily working as White House deputy chief of staff — if it would be feasible for the president to travel from the Ellipse to the Capitol building. Ornato referred the staff to Engel, who was one of the top Secret Service agents responsible for Trump’s safety.

Ultimately, Trump famously said during the Jan. 6 rally that he planned to go to the Capitol. “[W]e are going to — we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol.”

After making that remark, Secret Service personnel reached out to other law enforcement partners to figure out if this move was feasible, a detail first reported by the Washington Post. Engel himself, meanwhile, conveyed to the relevant parties that transporting Trump to the Capitol would be unfeasible.

Guglielmi, the Secret Service spokesperson, said agency personnel inquired into the feasibility of transporting Trump to the Capitol after he made his rally remarks. But the agency never made “an operational plan” to do so, he added.

Trump himself told The Washington Post in April that his Secret Service detail blocked him from going to the Capitol.

“Secret Service said I couldn’t go,” he told the paper. “I would have gone there in a minute.”

Engel isn’t the only Secret Service employee to speak with committee investigators. Two people who spoke with POLITICO about Engel’s interview said the panel has interviewed multiple agency personnel, in sessions that have taken hours. Some of those interviewed have been called back in for repeat questioning.

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