Donald Trump, the most voluble U.S. presidential candidate in memory, will soon be entitled to regular briefings on some of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence secrets.
Once Trump, known for his off-the-cuff speeches and constant tweets, becomes the Republican nominee for the White House in July, he’ll be entitled to updates based on the President’s Daily Brief, a compilation of top-level classified intelligence about global events.
It’s a prospect giving pause to some officials, who wonder how Trump will react to the information and whether he might inadvertently let some sensitive information slip out, according to several who asked not to be identified because they don’t want to be seen as taking sides in the political campaign.
“We will absolutely have no problem keeping it private. Nobody can hold information better than Mr. Trump,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, said when asked about the briefings. “We look forward to asking questions.”
While every Republican and Democratic nominee since the 1950s has received such briefings, providing them to Trump is going to be a unique experience for intelligence professionals, said Michael Hayden, who served as director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009 and participated in the sessions for Democrat Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Arizona Sen. John McCain, in 2008.
“My life experience had me brief, or see others brief, candidates who are familiar with and accepting of the post-World War II American foreign policy consensus,” Hayden, who is now with the Chertoff Group in Washington, said in an interview. “None of that appears to apply to Mr. Trump. This is going to make this series of briefings particularly challenging and exciting.”
During the Republican primary season, Trump has at times questioned the U.S. role in NATO, called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a strong leader,” and said he’s “in that camp” that believes torture yields valuable information from detainees.
Hayden declined to speculate whether Trump can be trusted but said he would expect the Obama administration to give the Republican nominee the same briefings as his Democratic opponent.
The Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a veteran recipient of government secrets, although Republicans contend she broke the law because classified information was included in messages on her private e-mail system. The FBI is investigating the matter.
In addition to giving the presidential nominees top-level security clearances, Hayden said some of their top aides also would be cleared to receive the briefings.
President Obama gets to decide what kind of classified information, and how much of it, the presidential candidates will receive, Hayden said. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest indicated that the responsibility has been delegated to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“This decision to provide that classified information will be made by the intelligence community,” Earnest told reporters on May 5. “It will be made by the professionals there and they will do the right thing for the country, and they’ll do that without any political influence from the White House.”
Earnest said the administration has confidence that Clinton can protect classified information, but he wouldn’t say the same for Trump.
“We’ll have to see what decision the director of national intelligence makes,” Earnest said. “I guess I can’t offer my own assessment.”
Clapper told reporters last month that his office has already created a team, led by an official who isn’t a political appointee, to conduct the briefings.
Both candidates will get the same information, and the officials briefing them will take steps to protect sources and methods, Clapper said at an event in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. A spokesman for Clapper declined further comment.
The initial briefings are likely to be limited in scope and content, mainly because the candidates won’t have much time, Hayden said. After the November election, the new president-elect and key aides will receive the full President’s Daily Brief, with the possible exception of active covert operations, Hayden said.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Chris Strohm