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Calls increase to cut off Trump's access to sensitive intelligence

Should Trump have intelligence access after he leaves office? Since he's "a classic counterintelligence risk," this isn't an especially tough call.
Image: President Donald Trump walks down the West Wing colonnade from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden.
President Donald Trump walks down the West Wing colonnade from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden.Carlos Barria / Reuters file

Like every president, Donald Trump has access to the nation's most sensitive and highly classified intelligence. But what's less widely known is that Trump, like his predecessors, will continue to have access to intelligence briefings and sensitive secrets, even after exiting the White House.

There are intensifying calls to make sure he doesn't. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), for example, told CBS News yesterday, "There is no circumstance in which this president should get another intelligence briefing... I don't think he can be trusted with it now, and in the future he certainly can't be trusted."

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CNN around the same time that "there's a grave danger" of Trump "inadvertently or willfully revealing classified information." The Maine independent added, "There is no upside, there is no reason that he needs to have this information."

And then there was Sue Gordon, a career CIA official who served as the principal deputy director of national intelligence for the first three years of the Trump era, who wrote a Washington Post op-ed on the subject:

My recommendation, as a 30-plus-year veteran of the intelligence community, is not to provide him any briefings after Jan. 20. With this simple act — which is solely the new president's prerogative — Joe Biden can mitigate one aspect of the potential national security risk posed by Donald Trump, private citizen.

On the surface, it's problematic enough that Trump has demonstrated an unnerving habit of blurting out sensitive national security information for no apparent reason. This alone should give intelligence officials pause.

But the problem runs much deeper. Shortly after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, the Washington Post reported that Trump "checks the boxes of a classic counterintelligence risk":

He is deeply in debt and angry at the U.S. government, particularly what he describes as the "deep state" conspiracy that he says tried to stop him from winning the White House in 2016 and what he falsely claims is an illegal effort to rob him of reelection.

Former CIA officer David Priess, who wrote a book on presidential intelligence briefings, explained, "Anyone who is disgruntled, dissatisfied or aggrieved is a risk of disclosing classified information, whether as a current or former officeholder. Trump certainly fits that profile."

Gordon added in her op-ed, "In addition, Trump has significant business entanglements that involve foreign entities. Many of these current business relationships are in parts of the world that are vulnerable to intelligence services from other nation-states. And it is not clear that he understands the tradecraft to which he has been exposed, the reasons the knowledge he has acquired must be protected from disclosure, or the intentions and capabilities of adversaries and competitors who will use any means to advance their interests at the expense of ours."

She went on to describe the Republican's security profile as "daunting."

It's entirely possible these concerns won't be altogether relevant: Trump has largely ignored his intelligence briefings while in office, and he may not make any effort to receive information once he's exited the White House.

But if the Republican requests that the new administration grant him access to classified information, Angus King said yesterday, "That ought to be an easy decision for the incoming president."