Many U.S. Secret Service agents have stood guard in Washington’s elite Kalorama neighborhood, home over the years to Cabinet secretaries and former presidents. Those agents have had to worry about death threats, secure perimeters and suspicious strangers. But with the arrival of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, they had a new worry: finding a toilet.
Instructed not to use any of the half-dozen bathrooms inside the couple's house, the Secret Service detail assigned to President Donald Trump's daughter and son-in-law spent months searching for a reliable restroom to use on the job, according to neighbors and law enforcement officials. After resorting to a porta-potty, as well as bathrooms at the nearby home of former president Barack Obama and the not-so-nearby residence of Vice President Pence, the agents finally found a toilet to call their own.
But it came at a cost to U.S. taxpayers. Since September 2017, the federal government has been spending $3,000 a month - more than $100,000 to date - to rent a basement studio, with a bathroom, from a neighbor of the Kushner family.
A White House spokesperson denied that Trump and Kushner restricted agents from their 5,000-square-foot home, with its six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, and asserted that it was the Secret Service’s decision not to allow the protective detail inside. That account is disputed by a law enforcement official familiar with the situation, who said the agents were kept out at the family’s request.
A spokeswoman for the Secret Service declined to comment, saying the agency "does not discuss the means, methods or resources utilized to carry out our protective mission."
Arrangements that allow for some distance between Secret Service agents and those they guard are not unusual, particularly when the agency's "means, methods or resources" involve indoor plumbing. The people who qualify for such protection often occupy expensive, sprawling properties where a detail can use a garage, pool house or other outbuilding as a command post, break room and bathroom.
The episode in Kalorama is unusual because of the lengths to which the agents' exile took them. In addition to their reliance on the restrooms used by fellow agents assigned to the Obamas and Pences, the detail occasionally popped into neighborhood businesses to avail themselves of the facilities.
"It's the first time I ever heard of a Secret Service detail having to go to these extremes to find a bathroom," said one law enforcement official familiar with the situation.
The agents’ bizarre odyssey played out in full view of a wealthy enclave in Northwest Washington, where many deplore Trump’s presidency and have expressed frustration over what they view as the Kushner family’s disregard for their neighbors. The community also includes multiple embassies and a house owned by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post.
The blockade of precious street parking spaces by the Trump/Kushner Secret Service detail roiled the neighborhood early in 2017. The porta-potty erected for agents further enraged residents unaccustomed to such sights on stately Tracy Place NW. As the Trump administration enters its final days with the president impeached a second time for inciting a deadly attack on the Capitol, eyes in Kalorama are peeled for the sight of moving trucks.
“They sort of came in with the attitude, like, ‘We are royalty,’” Dianne Bruce, who until recently lived across the street, said of Kushner and Trump. “When they put the porta-potty right outside on the sidewalk we weren’t allowed to walk on, that was when people in the neighborhood said, ‘That’s really not acceptable.’”
Bruce said she felt sympathy for the family's protective detail as she watched agents trying to balance the call of duty with nature's call.
"These poor people," she remembers thinking when the porta-potty was hauled away. "What, are they going to have to get in their cars" to go to the bathroom?
They were, and they did.
Two law enforcement officials said the bathrooms inside the Trump/Kushner home were declared off-limits to the people protecting them from the beginning. One official did not know the reason for this restriction, while the other said it was instigated by the couple. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of security arrangements for the president’s family.
White House spokesman Judd Deere denied that Trump and Kushner ever requested that their Secret Service detail not use the bathrooms in their home.
"When discussions regarding protecting their home were initially had in 2017, Ivanka and Jared made clear that their home would always be open to the incredible men and women on their detail. It was only after a decision by the [Secret Service] was made that their detail sought other accommodations," Deere wrote in an email. "The Kushners have a tremendous amount of respect for the servicemen and women on their detail and for the United States Secret Service as a whole. Their home will always be open to them and they have immense gratitude for their service over the last four years."
The porta-potty was the agency's initial solution to the protective detail's dilemma, but it was removed in the face of the neighborhood's protests. After that, according to the law enforcement officials, the agents began using a bathroom in a garage at the Obamas' house, which the former president's protective detail had turned into a command post.
The Obamas did not use the garage, so the extra traffic to and from the command post caused no problem. Yet this solution, too, was short-lived after a Secret Service supervisor from the Trump/Kushner detail left an unpleasant mess in the Obama bathroom at some point before the fall of 2017, according to a person briefed on the event. That prompted the leaders of the Obama detail to ban the agents up the street from ever returning.
The agents assigned to the president's daughter and son-in-law began driving a mile to Pence's home at the Naval Observatory, where they were allowed to use a bathroom in a stand-alone guard station. If they didn't have time for that excursion, the law enforcement officials said, they relied on the hospitality of nearby restaurants.
So when the Secret Service knocked on the door of Kay Kendall in September 2017, she was not surprised to learn why.
"I think it was very clear that they just needed a place to take a shower, take a break, use the facilities, have lunch," said Kendall, who is chairwoman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and is married to Jack Davies, founder of AOL International. "I'm happy to be able to have helped them."
Apart from the Kalorama house where she lives, Kendall owns a home across the street from Trump and Kushner. That house has a basement unit, including a bathroom, that is accessible from the rear. She thought of breaking that space off and ran the idea by the house's tenant, former Connecticut congressman Anthony "Toby" Moffett Jr.
"I told her, 'It's fine, if you reduce the rent,'" Moffett recalled.
General Services Administration records indicate that the lease of the 820-square-foot basement on Tracy Place NW began on Sept. 27, 2017. It is due to expire on Sept. 26 of this year, at which point the federal government will have paid a total of $144,000 for the space.
Secret Service agents typically seek low-profile location for their command post and restroom, said Steve Atkiss, who served as special assistant for operations to former president George W. Bush and chief of staff at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For example, former White House chief of staff Andy Card had a trailer set up for his protective detail at the end of his block in Virginia, Atkiss recalled. At the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, a building was constructed specifically for the security detail of two former presidents, he said.
"I've seen it accomplished 1,000 different ways," Atkiss said. "They don't want to be in their personal space."
In Kalorama, the Kushner/Trump agents were pleased with their new digs, the law enforcement officials said. The studio had plenty of natural light. Some considered it akin to a well-heeled lawyer's study. Most importantly, it opened on a tidy bathroom.
"It's been no big deal," Moffett said. "They have been very nice to our grandchildren."
The Secret Service has repeatedly incurred serious costs from providing protection to President Trump's children. In October, The Washington Post reported that Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. had enriched their family's business, as the Trump Organization charged the federal government at least $238,000 for agents' lodgings when the trio and their families visited Trump properties. Trump says he lost billions of dollars being president instead of running his business, which his sons have operated the past four years.
Deere declined to comment on how long Trump and Kushner plan to stay in Kalorama after President Trump leaves office next week.
Some neighbors are looking forward to their exit.
"I want my nice, quiet neighborhood back," said Marti Robinson, a trial attorney who lives across the street and was an Obama-appointed member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
On a recent Tuesday, some quiet seemed to have returned. There was no sign of activity at the Kushner family's residence, with its gray exterior shutters and white walls of brick. Black SUVs were parked in front.
A door to one of those SUVs opened, revealing what was, for the moment, the street’s only sign of life: A man wearing a dark suit, badge and crimson tie. He walked purposefully across the street, arms straight at his sides, and disappeared behind the house whose basement is being rented by the U.S. government. Five minutes later, he reemerged, recrossed the street, and stepped back into his vehicle.