Trump may 'exploit' classified briefings as ex-POTUS for '2024 run' and Biden must stop future access: Expert
If President-elect Joe Biden feels - after being sworn in as the 46th commander-in-chief, that national security will be compromised by Trump being provided with the information, he can revoke access
There is a long tradition in US of former presidents being consulted and granted access to some selected classified information about the ongoing foreign policies of the country. But there have been talks about whether outgoing president, Donald Trump, would be granted similar privileges after he leaves the White House on January 20.
President's Daily Brief, which includes highly classified intelligence analysis, information about covert operations of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and reports from the most sensitive US sources or those shared by allied intelligence agencies, is a top-secret summary of US intelligence and world events that every former POTUS is entitled to but only as a courtesy. As a result, if President-elect Joe Biden feels - after being sworn in as the 46th commander-in-chief, that national security will be compromised by Trump being provided with the information, he can revoke access.
We reached out to Spencer Critchley, Democratic adviser and author of 'Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next,' to understand better what the tradition entails and how it might be harmful to extend the privilege to Trump after he leaves office. "The tradition is that each is offered on an as-needed basis. For example, a former president might be briefed in the course of advising his successor on a particular issue, before a courtesy call with a foreign leader, or while serving as a special emissary," Critchley told MEAWW.
Given that the information shared with former leaders of the country is confidential, we asked the expert if there was any security system in place to ensure there will be no leakage of the same to foreign adversaries. "There’s no NDA, beyond the understanding that it’s a serious crime for anyone to disclose secret intelligence. But we’ve never thought we might need to apply that law to a former president. With every previous one, we’ve relied on unquestioned assumptions about basic honor and patriotism," Critchley said.
He then elaborated why the lack of any contractual barriers might not be wise when it comes to Trump. "Tragically for our country, we can’t make those assumptions about President Trump. In place of honor, he has shown eagerness to lie, cheat, and neglect his duties, up to and including his first duty, protecting American lives (as we’ve seen at such terrible cost during the pandemic). And no definition of patriotism would include attacking our democratic institutions, trading favors with our adversaries while undermining our allies, and in general exploiting our highest public office for his personal gain," he said.
Then there is the question of Trump actually wanting to receive the briefings. The format in which presidents prefer to receive the briefings depend on their preferences. For example, former President Barack Obama preferred to read his on a secured iPad during his presidency. Trump, liked to go through a compact version of the briefings, often reduced to short texts and graphics. He was often given a verbal briefing as at times he did not read the written brief. And there were also reports of Trump skipping these briefings altogether on days in the end.
But given that Trump confirmed that he plans to run for the Oval Office again in 2024 at a recent Christmas party at the White House at the beginning of the month, he might want to stay abreast of the developments that the future administration is going to lay in place. "His record tells us he wouldn’t want briefings unless he thought he could profit from them, if only by blabbing important secrets to show off, as he has repeatedly. And since he’s never hesitated to exploit government resources to serve his political interests, no doubt he’d do that again for a 2024 run," Critchley said, adding "it would be very dangerous."
He added: "It seems fanciful to think he would he ever want information just because it would help him serve his country. But as I’m not the first to point out, at least his negligent inattention means he has less information to disclose. It’s some small comfort."
Nevertheless, the expert did stress the fact that he believes that it was highly unlikely that Biden would include Trump in the list of US officials approved to received the classified briefings. "Intelligence briefings for former presidents are given at the discretion of the current president. I hope Biden has already ruled them out for Trump. He knows that like all other presidential decisions, this one should be based on what best serves the people of the United States. I can’t imagine how sharing intelligence with Donald Trump could possibly do that," he concluded.