Mark Meadows is the only person ever to spend campaign funds on the Secret Service

Odd payments raise questions of whether Meadows may (again) have violated ban on personal use of campaign funds

By Roger Sollenberger
February 4, 2021 11:10AM (UTC)
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White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows walks along the South Lawn before President Donald Trump departs from the White House on October 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump will travel to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota for the campaign rallies ahead of the presidential election on Tuesday. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in December became the first and only person in recorded campaign finance history to report an expense related to the U.S. Secret Service, according to his leadership PAC's year-end filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The report, which Freedom First PAC's treasurer Collin McMichael submitted over the weekend, notes two Dec. 7 payments designated for "Food/Beverage for PAC Reception Honoring Secret Service Members." The PAC, an extension of Meadows' campaign committee, made the disbursements, both for around $250, to Costco headquarters and a Walmart in Hendersonville, North Carolina, home to Meadows' former congressional district office.

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search of FEC records shows that before this, exactly zero political committees in recorded history have ever designated expenses related to the Secret Service. Because one of Meadows' two payments went to a Walmart in his hometown, it's possible that the event honored the detail that guarded Meadows during his nine months in the top White House job. If that is the case, the payments might violate the federal prohibition against the personal use of campaign funds.

Salon reported on Wednesday that the PAC's year-end filing suggests that the FEC may already be investigating Meadows for personal use violations. In October, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an FEC complaint, based on Salon's previous reporting, calling on the agency to investigate what appear to have been tens of thousands of dollars of campaign expenditures on personal items in the previous year — including on gourmet cupcakes, clubs, lavish meals and a $2,650 purchase at a high-end Washington jeweler on Meadows' final day as a member of Congress.

The year-end report only shows three PAC expenditures: the two food and beverage purchases for the Secret Service affair, and a $6,300 payment to Foley Lardner LLP for "PAC legal services."

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While chief of staff, Meadows received Secret Service protection, a standard taxpayer-backed benefit for that position which former President Trump reportedly extended for an additional six months — an arrangement that a veteran senior official of two administrations told Salon was "bizarre" and "unheard of." According to The Washington Post, Trump issued the same directive for his four adult children and two of their spouses, who would not otherwise be automatically eligible, as well as to two other administration loyalists: former national security adviser Robert O'Brien and former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who headed the department that oversees the Secret Service.

But by the end of Trump's term, Meadows' prospective employment options had thinned out to the point that he was considering a position with the Trump Organization, Politico reported on Jan. 25. It is unclear if the reported Secret Service extension was connected to possible employment with the former president's private company. Two days after the Politico story was published, Axios reported that Meadows would be joining the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization led by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint which Axios has described as a "networking hub" for Republicans.

A former senior Trump White House official told Salon that although Meadows' FEC expenditures, like his Secret Service extension, appeared to violate ethical precedent, the Trump administration had cultivated a special relationship with a few specific Secret Service agents. "Over time, they sort of found their people, you could say," the former official said.

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Trump was apparently so successful at shaping the ideological makeup of his Secret Service detail that it created national security concerns for the incoming administration, which initially staffed President Biden's detail with agents who had personally protected him as vice president in the Obama White House.

In mid-November, the Washington Post reported that more than 130 Secret Service officers had been directed to quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus or coming in contact with other agents who had contracted the virus. The outbreak was thought to be linked to campaign rallies. Meadows, a regular attendee at many of Trump's public events, tested  positive less than a week after the November election.


Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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