Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— Beth Myers, Mitt Romney’s senior advisor, could have turned to Cofer Black, a former CIA official who helps the campaign, to develop a plan for Romney to meet secretly with Paul Ryan to ask him to be on his ticket.
Instead, the Romney advisor in charge of vetting vice presidential candidates turned to Kelli Harrison, the 27-year-old special assistant to Mitt and Ann Romney.
Kelli Harrison, the 27-year-old special assistant to Mitt and Ann Romney, orchestrated the clandestine meeting with the panache of a CIA operative.
Photo courtesy of Gail Gitcho.
Harrison may not have had any CIA training, but Peter Earnest, a former CIA station chief who now is executive director of the Spy Museum in Washington, says, “It sounds as if she followed the principles of a black — meaning covert — exfiltration. It has all the classic signs.”
In her first interview about the plan and the Romneys, Harrison tells Newsmax the full details of how her plan worked and what it’s like to work directly for the Romneys.
Originally from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., Harrison had just graduated from Tufts University with a major in Middle Eastern and Arabic Studies when she decided to apply for a job with the first Romney presidential campaign in September 2007. A politics buff, she had first heard of Romney when she attended the 2002 Winter Olympics, which Romney ran.
Her job interview with Myers, then chief of staff to the Massachusetts governor, was brief. After they chatted about Tufts, which they both attended, Myers explained what would be expected of her.
“Do you think you can handle it?” Myers asked.
When Harrison said yes, Myers said, “How about you start Monday?”
Harrison started as executive assistant to the campaign manager, then worked for Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC with Romney aide Peter G. Flaherty II. In August 2008, she became the Romneys’ special assistant. In that role, she oversees scheduling them, takes care of their homes, and sometimes pays bills.
“I like to think of myself just as constantly on call,” Harrison says. “I always have my phone on.”
Harrison worked with Mitt Romney and his publisher on his 2010 book “No Apology.” In the acknowledgments, Romney credits her with coming up with the title after he had tried for at least six months.
A blonde who has a self-deprecating manner, Harrison looks like a volleyball star, which she once was on the Tufts team. She keeps a red, white, and blue volleyball on the floor beside her desk at campaign headquarters on Commercial Street in Boston. During conference calls, she tosses the ball against a wall.
According to what her Tufts volleyball captain Lindsey Moses told the Tufts Daily, on the court Harrison “plays hard, dives for balls, and is never afraid to use her kneepads and leave some sweat on the floor.”
After Romney decided on Aug. 1 that Ryan was his choice, Myers gave Harrison the task of arranging a clandestine meeting where Romney would offer him the job. The challenge was to arrange it so that neither man would be spotted by reporters, who figured Ryan was on a short list to be his running mate and were staking out his house.
Myers tells me she gave the assignment to Harrison because during the five years she has worked with her, “I’ve known her to be always discreet. I’d trust her with anything, as would Mitt and Ann. She is also incredibly thorough and smart as a whip. And she has a complete understanding of all of Mitt’s activities, so she was able to handle his movements without arousing any suspicion.”
The meeting was scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 5. Harrison decided that the best rendezvous point would be the dining room of Myers’ home in Brookline, Mass. In case reporters got on to them, Harrison chose her own home in Medford, Mass. as a backup.
A few months earlier, Romney had attended an engagement party Myers threw at her home for campaign manager Matt Rhoades.
“I decided that was a place that the Secret Service had been before, and they would feel comfortable with him going in without the agents,” Harrison said. “Beth has a garage with internal access, so we could pull all of them into the garage, shut the garage door, and bring the governor into the house that way.”
Harrison arranged for Rep. Ryan to sneak out the back door of his home in Janesville, Wis. Ryan walked through the woods and then got a ride to the airport from his chief of staff Andy Speth. He was wearing a bow hunting hat, sunglasses, blue jeans, and a t-shirt.
Instead of flying to Boston, where reporters might spot him at the airport, Harrison arranged for Ryan to fly to Hartford, Conn. Harrison had Myers’ 19-year-old son Curt pick him up at the airport in a rented SUV. Then Curt drove the 42-year-old House Budget Committee chairman to Myers’ home for the 1 p.m. meeting.
Intent on keeping reporters at bay, Harrison rented a car so reporters would not start speculating about her presence as she drove to New Hampshire and approached Romney’s home on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro. She called Romney’s Secret Service detail, which was with him attending church, and laid out instructions.
“The governor’s church ends in half an hour,” she said. “I’m going to be at the house in 20 minutes. What we’ll do is, you’ll drop him at the house as usual. He is going to run in and just change into casual clothes. I would love it if you guys could move the motorcade up to the woods to pick him up.”
Harrison stayed at Romney’s home, figuring reporters would see her go in and assume she was with him.
“I was monitoring Twitter and other sorts of news platforms to check on what people were reporting on,” Harrison says. “I was also monitoring Twitter for any mention of, ‘Guess who is on my flight?’ Or, ‘Look at who I just ran into at the airport?’”
No one had caught on.
Instead of the usual police escort, the motorcade to Brookline consisted only of three Secret Service vehicles. Rather than take the usual route through Boston, Harrison had the Secret Service drive to Brookline on an alternate route. At her home in Brookline, Myers, a protégée of Karl Rove who was a litigation associate with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, checked for any reporters. She saw none.
A Secret Service Suburban drove into Myers’ garage with Romney, who entered the house while the agents remained in the garage. The other two Secret Service vehicles parked down the street.
The meeting lasted more than an hour, followed by a meeting between the two candidates and Romney staffers.
“You know, it was one of the most moving conversations I’ve ever had with anybody,” Ryan told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “He told me where he thought the country was headed, how we got to get back on track, his life story, what is in his heart. And then he basically said, you share my values, and you have the kind of experience I’m going to need to help me fix this country’s problems.” Romney said, “Let’s go fix this country.”
Harrison then began planning Ryan’s clandestine trip to make the announcement on Aug. 11 at a rally in Norfolk, Va. She was with Romney in Norfolk, a walkie-talkie strapped to her belt.
The fact that Harrison is special assistant to both Romneys symbolizes how close their bond is, as depicted in my Newsmax magazine cover story in the September issue. She says the Romneys treat her as “one of their own,” citing the fact that Ann Romney taught her to make her Welsh grandmother’s skillet cakes in her kitchen in New Hampshire.
What stands out about Romney is his demand for facts, Harrison says.
“You have to be able to answer all of his questions,” Harrison says. “He is so inquisitive and wants to dig deep into the data and to get all of the information available. So, I always try to be one step ahead of him. That’s difficult, but I try to be as up to date as possible with all of the information. I expect from him any range of logistical or biographical questions about who he is meeting with and why.”
As a CIA case officer, Peter Earnest often arranged such clandestine meetings overseas. Often he wore what is called a “light disguise” in spy parlance: A wig and glasses, a beard, or a mustache did the trick.
Earnest says he is impressed by the black exfiltration.
“The mark of a successful operation is it worked, and it did,” Earnest says.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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