It’s hard to transition from one day knowing the world’s intelligence secrets to the next day being all alone in America, pocketing $400,000 speaking fees and tens of millions in book deal cash. To soften the blow, former presidents continue to receive intelligence briefings and access to classified information. Except today’s outgoing president is . . . different. Here are a few things to know as Donald Trump leaves the White House for the last time.
Will private citizen Trump continue to get intelligence briefings?
People in the know hope not. Last week Susan M. Gordon, who was Trump’s principal deputy director of intelligence from 2017-2019, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting that to do so would be a grave security risk. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff also says hell-to-the-no, pointing out that U.S. allies withheld intelligence from Trump and his people because they “didn’t trust the president.” Ex-FBI director James Comey also said he thinks it would be a bad idea.
So who decides?
It’s up to President Joe Biden. Past presidents have received briefs as a courtesy. Can’t you just imagine Bill Clinton asking for and receiving frequent, extensive briefs, and chatting off the ear of George W. Bush?
What’s the Biden administration say?
Biden’s camp has handled this politely in the lead-up to the inauguration. Rather than declaring ABSOLUTELY NOT, Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said that Biden will hear from intelligence staffers on the matter first, Politico reported.
What’s the concern?
As Gordon put it in her Washington Post op-ed: “It is not clear that [Trump] understands the tradecraft to which he has been exposed, the reasons that the knowledge he has acquired must be protected from disclosure, or the intentions and capabilities of adversaries and competitors who will use any means necessary to advance their interests at the expense of ours.” Also, he’s particularly manipulatable as someone who wants to stay in politics (prior modern presidents have not done this), whose head is already full of priceless intelligence, and who continues business dealings with our foes (or in regions swarming with the intelligence services of our foes).
What could possibly go wrong?
Oh, I dunno. Perhaps blabbing classified information to foreign nations, or posting classified photos on social media, or ongoing blackmail by an enemy foreign leader, or some as-yet-not-imagined (by us) crime.
Why does the courtesy exist?
Theoretically, it facilitates past presidents in their work of continuing to further America’s interests. For example, a former president traveling abroad would want to know if, say, their dinner host was covertly undermining the United States. He’d also want to know the status of current closed-door negotiations, to be able to support the policies of the current administration. Can’t do that without a briefing.
Does Trump even want them?
Trump openly didn’t read daily written briefs as president, though he did attend in-person briefings every few days, which were known for becoming somewhat combative. This said, Trump likes status and access, and a rarified few humans enjoy this benefit.
So will he get the briefings?
Let’s just say Biden has no incentive to continue access. This being a polite administration, Trump may find himself the recipient of watered-down intelligence briefs, which he also won’t read. Stay tuned.