To fire a cop, get a cop: Trump’s enforcer, Keith Schiller, hand-carried the letter to Comey

Lisa Belkin
Chief National Correspondent
EDITORS NOTE: Information masked by blur for privacy. President Trump walks with aide Keith Schiller to the Oval Office, May 2, 2017. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

It is part of Keith Schiller’s job to stay out of the picture. As Donald Trump’s longtime personal bodyguard, the current director of Oval Office operations can be seen in any number of photos of his boss — he’s the 6’4”, 210-pound man with a buzzcut who looks like the former NYPD narcotics cop that he is. But he’s always in the periphery of the shot.

Yesterday, though, he was caught in the metaphorical spotlight, when he hand-delivered a letter from Trump to FBI headquarters for Director James Comey, informing him that his job was terminated. (Comey, who was in California, actually got the news from a TV report.) It was Schiller who was seen entering FBI headquarters carrying a manila envelope, then departing empty-handed.

Which leads to the question: Who is this man who was chosen to inform the director of the FBI that he was fired? And how did that become part of a bodyguard’s job description?

First, he is not just any bodyguard. During the campaign he was described as the “most underestimated person on Trump’s team” and “arguably the person Trump trusts most outside his own family.” He has in fact been with the president longer than almost anyone in his current circle — joining the Trump security team in 1999 when he began moonlighting for extra income.

Donald Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller, left, grabs hold of Vince McMahon, center, as the World Wrestling Entertainment president tries to attack Trump for slapping his face during a press conference in New York, March 2007. (Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Schiller almost never gives interviews (he did not respond to a request for this article), but he did sit down in front of a camera on New Year’s Eve 2015 with author Rich Siegel, who was his high school classmate in New Paltz, N.Y. Siegel posted the resulting hour-long video on Facebook.

In it, Schiller describes losing his mother at age 16, entering the Navy after graduation from high school, working odd jobs for several years until, in need of health insurance when his wife became pregnant, he took a job counseling youth in the local prison system. Eight years later he joined the NYPD, where he started as a transit officer, became the guy who carries the battering ram to bust down doors in drug raids, then earned his detective’s shield.

He happened to be at police headquarters one day during the 1990s when he crossed paths with Trump’s then wife Marla Maples, who was there to file a complaint about an employee, he says in the video. At one point Schiller found himself in the waiting room, seated next to Maples’ bodyguard, and he was unimpressed. At the time “I could press 315, and you wouldn’t want to meet [me] in a dark alley” he says. The bodyguard, by his description, not so much. “If he’s a bodyguard, I sure as f*** am a bodyguard, right?” he recalls thinking. He asked the assistant district attorney on Maples’ case to introduce him to the Trump organization and he began accompanying the businessman part-time.

In 2004, he left the force with his 20-year pension and has been with Trump full-time ever since. At the time Trump launched his presidential campaign, Schiller had been head of security for the entire Trump organization for nearly a decade and had known the boss for nearly two.

Univision reporter Jorge Ramos, left, is escorted from then candidate Donald Trump’s news conference by Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller, Aug. 25, 2015. (Photo: Ben Brewer/Reuters)

He generated more than a little controversy during the campaign. It was Schiller who escorted Univision reporter Jorge Ramos out of the room during a press conference in August 2015, holding him firmly by the elbow as he tried to ask a question about immigration. And a month later he ripped a sign from a protester who was marching in front of Trump Tower. When the man tried to grab back the handmade poster — which said “Trump: Make America Racist Again,” Schiller punched him in the face.

His hands-on involvement, literal and metaphorical, declined when the Secret Service began to protect Trump in November 2015. Schiller officially became a liaison between the Trump organization and the federal agents — an unusual arrangement, since it is almost unheard of for a presidential candidate to retain any personal security staff once the Secret Service comes aboard. And the fact that Trump’s personal team has also come with him to the White House — where Schiller is now deputy assistant to the president and director of Oval Office operations — is unprecedented.

How did “Oval Office operations” come to include delivering the mail?

The only official statement from the White House was one by Sarah Huckabee Sanders at today’s press briefing. She said Trump “followed the proper protocol in that process, which is handwritten notification. At the same time, no matter how you fire someone, it’s never an easy process. So he felt like following protocol was the best thing to do.”

Keith Schiller, deputy assistant to the president and director of Oval Office operations. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Observers of this president have long noted that Trump tends to poll the room when making decisions, asking opinions from anyone nearby, and since Schiller is rarely more than a few yards away he is likely a frequent source of advice. And they also note that despite sealing his national image with the TV tagline “You’re fired!,” in real life Trump rarely actually fires anyone. “He hated it,” remembered Barbara Res, who was in charge of construction on Trump Tower. “He would do anything not to actually fire someone.”

Instead, she said, he would create a situation in which an employee felt compelled to resign — for instance, by appointing Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon to run the campaign, leading Paul Manafort to leave. And if that failed, he would order someone else to let them go, which is why his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly told Corey Lewandowski that he had been replaced. And so it was left to Schiller to get word to Comey.

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