When President Clinton heads to the South Lawn to walk his dog, Buddy, his "time out" and "time in" are noted in Secret Service logs near the door. Swimming laps in the White House pool? Agents are there just in case. And when he leans into a crowd to shake hands, an agent is anchoring him around the hips.
The agents are always close by; no wonder independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr wants them on the witness stand.Agent Larry Cockell, one of those subpoenaed in Starr's investigation of whether Clinton obstructed justice in the Paula Jones case, was inside the 11th-floor conference room all six hours that Clinton was deposed by Jones' lawyers. As is standard practice, the agent rode in the front passenger seat of Clinton's limousine to and from the law offices, in full earshot of whatever Clinton and his attorney Bob Bennett discussed.
"My experience riding in the car is it's hard not to overhear," White House press secretary Mike McCurry allowed Wednesday.
Only when Clinton and his lawyers called a "time out" in the deposition and retreated privately to a separate room did Cockell leave them alone and wait outside the door, according to people present that day.
"That deposition was going to be a heated environment," explained former Secret Service deputy director Larry Sheafe. "Whenever the president is in a meeting where there are several people and there's not a great deal known about those other people, the agent will be there inside."
Even in the Oval Office, an agent will be there unless Clinton is meeting with close advisers - and, even then, an agent is posted on the patio just outside the Oval's glass-paned doors.
Except for in the upstairs family quarters of the White House - "the one place where the first family has total privacy," said Sheafe - the Secret Service is omnipresent and often witness to the president's most personal moments.
"One of the reasons why they do their job effectively is that you just take them for granted - that they're there," said McCurry.
As for privacy, former agent Jerry Parr said the president's personal detail "knows quite a bit. But it just goes in one ear and out the other most of the time."