Feb 18, 2018

Scoop: Skirmish in Beijing over the nuclear football

The president and first lady during their visit to China. Photo: Thomas Peter/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday Nov. 9, when President Trump and his team visited Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Chief of Staff John Kelly and a U.S. Secret Service agent skirmished with Chinese security officials over the nuclear football.

I've spoken to five sources familiar with the events. Here's what happened, as they describe it:

  • When the U.S. military aide carrying the nuclear football entered the Great Hall, Chinese security officials blocked his entry. (The official who carries the nuclear football is supposed to stay close to the president at all times, along with a doctor.)
  • A U.S. official hurried into the adjoining room and told Kelly what was happening. Kelly rushed over and told the U.S. officials to keep walking — "We're moving in," he said — and the Americans all started moving.
  • Then there was a commotion. A Chinese security official grabbed Kelly, and Kelly shoved the man’s hand off of his body. Then a U.S. Secret Service agent grabbed the Chinese security official and tackled him to the ground.

The whole scuffle was over in a flash, and the U.S. officials told about the incident were asked to keep quiet about it. Trump's team followed the normal security procedure to brief the Chinese before their visit to Beijing, according to a person familiar with the trip — but somebody at the Chinese end either didn't get the memo or decided to mess with the Americans anyway.

I'm told that at no point did the Chinese have the nuclear football in their possession or even touch the briefcase. I'm also told the head of the Chinese security detail apologized to the Americans afterwards for the misunderstanding.

Updated with Secret Service statement:

“An individual, not part of the official delegation, attempted to prevent one of our protectees from entering a room. A U.S. Secret Service  agent quickly intervened and a short scuffle ensued. The individual complied with the agent’s directions and no further action was necessary. At no time did anyone involved fall to the ground. The event continued without incident.”

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