Former President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One on his last day in office. | Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images
Assuming Congress lets him keep them.
He’s finally gone.
At noon on Wednesday, former President Donald Trump’s term expired, and he was stripped both of the powers of office and of the immunity from federal prosecution that comes with it.
Yet, while Trump is now a private citizen just like any other American, he does enjoy certain valuable perks as a former president. For the most part, these perks remain available to Trump even if he is convicted by the Senate in a still-pending impeachment trial. Under the Former Presidents Act, an ex-president is entitled to the law’s benefits if their presidency “shall have terminated other than by removal.” Thus, because Trump served his entire term, he likely would be entitled to a pension.
That said, the Former Presidents Act is an act of Congress that can be amended, so Congress likely could strip Trump of the perks he enjoys as an ex-president.
Here are the perks that Trump stands to get as an ex-president.
An annual pension
Until the late 1950s, former presidents received no pension after leaving office. Congress changed that, in large part due to embarrassment over the fact that former President Harry Truman had little income beyond a military pension for many of his early years out of office.
The Former Presidents Act of 1958 originally set the presidential pension at $25,000. Now presidents receive a pension “equal to the annual rate of basic pay, as in effect from time to time, of the head of an executive department” — currently about $219,000.
Trump’s name has long been associated with garish opulence, but he may soon need this pension to meet basic expenses. According to the New York Times, Trump’s businesses are losing valuable contracts because of the former president’s increasingly toxic brand, and hundreds of millions of dollars in loans are about to come due.
An office and staff
The Former Presidents Act also funds office space and a modest staff for one-time chief executives. An ex-president may select the staff employed under this act, and the total budget for such hires is $150,000 per year during the former president’s first 30 months out of office, and then $96,000 per year thereafter.
Meanwhile, the provision permitting Trump to have a government-funded office space could potentially spark conflict between Trump and the Biden administration. Rather than establishing a fixed budget for an ex-president’s office space, the law provides that “the Administrator of General Services shall furnish for each former President suitable office space appropriately furnished and equipped, as determined by the Administrator, at such place within the United States as the former President shall specify.”
Thus, while Trump can pick a location such as his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida for his new office, the administrator of general services has the power to determine what kind of office space is “suitable” for Trump.
An allowance for his widow
If Trump dies before former first lady Melania Trump, then Melania is entitled to “a monetary allowance at a rate of $20,000 per annum,” provided that she does not remarry before turning 60 years old.
The law provides this benefit to the “widow of each former President.” So if the Trumps divorce, Melania would not be entitled to an allowance upon his death. If he were to remarry, his new spouse could potentially be eligible upon his death.
Classified security briefings
Former presidents traditionally receive intelligence briefings. As former principal deputy director of national intelligence Susan Gordon wrote in the Washington Post, the purpose of these briefs is to support an ex-president’s “continued involvement in advancing America’s interests.”
A former president is not entitled to these briefings as a matter of law, however. Rather, they are a courtesy that sitting presidents ordinarily provide to their predecessors, and they can be cut off at the sitting president’s discretion.
With this limitation in mind, Gordon argues that President Biden should cut off Trump’s briefings because of Trump’s unique “security profile.” Trump “might be unusually vulnerable to bad actors with ill intent,” Gordon writes, and he also has “significant business entanglements that involve foreign entities” — potentially presenting him with a conflict of interest if he does receive classified intelligence.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) echoed Gordon during an interview with CBSNews’s Face The Nation last Sunday. “I don’t think he can be trusted” with such briefings, Schiff said, citing fears that American allies may have withheld intelligence from the United States during the Trump presidency, because of concerns that Trump would not “safeguard that information.”
Former presidents also enjoy personal security protection. By law, “under the direction of the Secretary of Homeland Security, the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect” a former president and their spouse. Alternatively, presidents who do not receive Secret Service protection instead receive “up to $1,000,000 for each former President and up to $500,000 for the spouse of each former President each fiscal year for security and travel related expenses.”
In theory, the Department of Homeland Security might be able to deny Secret Service protection to Trump, or Congress could amend the law to strip Trump of his security protections — although, for many of the same reasons Gordon cited in warning against providing Trump with additional classified information, there are sound national security reasons to continue to provide Secret Service protection to Trump.
Trump undoubtedly learned numerous American secrets during his time in office, and that makes him a potential target for foreign adversaries or other individuals who may wish to make use of those secrets. Secret Service protection, in other words, doesn’t just protect Trump, it also protects the United States.