Reagan's Secret Service Supervisor Says a President Lunging at Security Detail Is Unheard Of: 'Mind Boggling'

Joseph Petro, who served 23 years in the Secret Service, says he "sat in disbelief" Tuesday afternoon hearing a former White House aide testify about Donald Trump's alleged rage on Jan. 6, 2021

Joseph Petro, a retired Secret Service agent who served alongside President Ronald Reagan, "sat in disbelief" as he listened to testimony Tuesday that Donald Trump attempted to grab the steering wheel of his presidential limousine and lunged at the chief of his Secret Service detail in an attempt to join the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

"What happened in that car was quite extraordinary," Petro, a 23-year veteran of the Secret Service, tells PEOPLE. "According to the testimony today, it's just, it's mind boggling, actually."

Petro's service included supervisory roles under Reagan and Vice President Dan Quayle.

"I sat in the right front seat of [Reagan's] limousine, I don't know 100 times, in four years," he says. "What was done was was very unusual, quite inappropriate, actually, for anybody — whether you're president or not — to reach to the steering wheel, assuming that's true."

"It's beyond belief, isn't it?" he says.

Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, gave the jaw-dropping testimony to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on Tuesday afternoon.

Trump and the Secret Service
Donald Trump in the presidential limo, flanked by the Secret Service, during his inauguration.

According to Hutchinson, Robert Engel, the head of Trump's Secret Service detail, said that Trump yelled, "I'm the f------ president, take me up to the Capitol now," to which Engel responded, "Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing."

"The president then reached up to grab at the steering wheel," Hutchinson recalled Engel saying.

After Engel rebuffed Trump, the former president lunged at Engle, she testified.

When asked if Secret Service personnel are trained on how to respond to a situation like this, Petro said: "Well it's so preposterous. I don't think anybody ever thought that they'd need to have to know how to do that."

Trump and the Secret Service
Donald Trump with the Secret Service.

He noted that it's a "long reach" from the backseat of the presidential stretch limousine where the President sits to the steering wheel, about four or five feet.

"It's an effort to get up there," he says. But video of Trump's motorcade the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, shows he was riding in an armored SUV—in a standard back seat immediately behind his two agents in the front seat—and not the limousine.

Still, Petro marveled at the altercation that Hutchinson said had been described to her: "I mean, I spent 23 years, I've never heard anything like this ever."

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: A video of former President Trump's motorcade leaving the January 6th rally on the Ellipse is displayed as Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifies during the sixth hearing held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 28, 2022 in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC. The bipartisan committee, which has been gathering evidence related to the January 6, 2021 attack at the U.S. Capitol for almost a year, is presenting its findings in a series of televised hearings. On January 6, 2021, supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for Joe Biden. (Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)
Video of then-President Trump leaving his Jan. 6, 2021 rally in a Secret Service SUV. Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty

Trump was also angry that the Secret Service didn't let armed supporters through security to get closer to a stage where he was speaking prior to the attack on the Capitol, Hutchinson testified.

Petro praises the Secret Service for doing "the right thing against the president's will" and adds that Engel "should be commended."

"He didn't give in. He did the operationally sound thing against the will of the president, apparently. And that's to be commended," Petro says.

Trump and the Secret Service
Donald Trump with Secret Service detail at his inauguration.

"I commend the Secret Service for for their steadfastness in adhering to the what their role is," he says. "Protecting the president."

"On the other end of the spectrum, he added, "I don't have any concern for the other guy. The president."

Hutchinson also testified that after Trump learned that Attorney General Bill Barr told the Associated Press that there was no widespread election fraud, he threw a porcelain plate against a wall, leaving ketchup running down, while at other times would flip tablecloths and sending all the contents of the table to the floor.

Petro says he never saw any politician in his Secret Service years come close to this kind of behavior.

"You know, they all had a certain dignity about them," he says. "You wouldn't even dream these kinds of things."

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