G.O.P. and Secret Service Clash Again Over Convention Protest Zone

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The Republican National Committee, alarmed by what it sees as a significantly worsening security threat, asked on Thursday that the director of the Secret Service personally intervene and grant a request to move a designated protest zone farther away from convention participants in Milwaukee this summer.

Republicans have demanded for nearly a month that the Secret Service push back the protesters from the convention site. Now, seven weeks before the start of the convention on July 15, a letter from Todd R. Steggerda, a counsel to the R.N.C., has raised the stakes.

“Your failure to act now to prevent these unnecessary and certain risks will imperil tens of thousands of convention attendees, inexcusably forcing them into close proximity to the currently planned First Amendment Zone,” Mr. Steggerda wrote to Kimberly A. Cheatle, the director of the Secret Service, referring to a designated protest site at Pere Marquette Park, a small public park on the bank of the Milwaukee River, about a quarter-mile from the arena hosting the convention.

In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Steggerda cited “an increased and untenable risk of violence” from a “rapidly deteriorating security environment,” and demanded that Ms. Cheatle intervene. The Secret Service is tasked with leading security for both major-party conventions this summer.

The Republican Party has previously argued that, in the current plan, those attending the convention will be forced to pass by the protesters on their way into the venue, increasing the opportunity for confrontation.

The Secret Service responded in a lengthy statement to Mr. Steggerda’s letter, saying that officials had held “multiple meetings” with the R.N.C. chairman, convention staff and concerned senators, but that the agency was “confident in the security plan being developed.”

Anthony Guglielmi, the chief of communications for the Secret Service, also castigated Mr. Steggerda for detailing security plans not yet finalized or released to the public, accusing him of jeopardizing the safety of convention-goers — precisely what Mr. Steggerda said he was concerned about.

“Publicly disclosing security information, as done in this letter, undermines our ability to maintain the integrity of our security plan and keep the convention, attendees and the public safe,” Mr. Guglielmi said.

Both parties are concerned about an acute political divide that has led to a sharp increase in threats of political violence. Much attention has been paid to expected protests — mainly from Palestinian rights activists — at the Democratic National Convention planned for August in Chicago.

But Republicans say the threat of violence has already emerged against supporters of their presumptive nominee, former President Donald J. Trump. A man set himself on fire last month in front of the Manhattan courthouse where Mr. Trump is on criminal trial, and on Wednesday, a suspicious package with two vials of blood prompted a lockdown at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.

Some protesters have already vowed that they will not remain confined to the designated demonstration site in Milwaukee, just as some have said that they will not apply for permits in Chicago or be corralled there.

Some Milwaukee officials have also made it clear that they want the security perimeter to be as tight as possible to not interfere with the city’s summer activities, the most important economic time in Wisconsin.

Jeff Fleming, a spokesman for Milwaukee’s mayor, Cavalier Johnson, said the city was willing to listen to the concerns of convention planners. But he pushed back on Mr. Steggerda’s assertion that there was a “critical flaw” in the existing security plan.

“We recognize that the security zone is set based on the vast experience of all law enforcement partners,” he added. “If they were to say, ‘Oh, it has to be four additional blocks to the east or west,’ we would respect that decision. That is not what the law enforcement professionals are saying.”

Secret Service officials said the city, not the service, designates the protest zone.

“Our security perimeters are based on public safety metrics, including protective intelligence, risk and threat assessments,” Mr. Guglielmi added. “Our model is designed to ensure the highest level of security while minimizing impacts on the public.”

In light of the proximity of convention-goers to the protesters, Mr. Steggerda said the Secret Service should expand the convention’s walled-off security perimeter into Pere Marquette Park, and push the protest zone south about a half-mile to Zeidler Union Square, providing convention-goers “an essential — but modest — protective physical separation from the anticipated demonstrators.”

According to the letter, Secret Service officials have told convention planners that expanding the security perimeter would be legally impermissible — a point that Mr. Steggerda rejected.

“With less than two months before the convention and even less time before the U.S.S.S. finalizes the plan, it is imperative you take personal and immediate steps to fix this unacceptable flaw in the design of the security perimeter,” he wrote.



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