Question for Josh Earnest: Are Hillary and Trump seriously going to get classified briefings?

Typically the two nominees start getting briefed after the conventions so that they can hit the ground running once one of them is elected president, but … maybe that’s a tradition worth reconsidering. After all, says Yuval Levin, the choice this year is between “a woman who is clearly guilty of gross failures to protect classified information and a man who seems less trustworthy and disciplined about what he allows out of his mouth than almost everyone in America.” How would you like your state secrets leaked? By the blue clown sticking them on a private server where any foreign cyberspy agency in the world can hack them? Or by the red clown mentioning something offhandedly during one of his patented stream-of-consciousness rants at a rally with 20,000 people?


Here’s an idea: Cancel the pre-election briefings and have Clapper and his deputies spend a solid week with the president-elect in November. How about it, Josh Earnest?

“The decision about how and whether and when to brief to the presidential nominees is a decision that will be made by our intelligence professionals,” Earnest said.

President Obama has “full confidence in [National Intelligence] Director [James] Clapper and the professionals in his office to carry out these responsibilities appropriately,” Earnest said.

He said he “expects” the tradition of briefing candidates will continue this year but he’s punting the decision to the IC, which is prudent. Consider this another small way in which nominating Trump helps Democrats, though. With a more conscientious GOP nominee, the White House would be taking flak from Republicans now about looping in Hillary on the latest intel after we’ve learned how grossly irresponsibly she handled it during her last stint in government. As it is, what can the GOP say? Hillary’s too much of a security risk for secrets but our loose-cannon nominee, who’s known for rambling endlessly whenever a mic is stuck in his face, would be a vault? C’mon:

“My concern with Trump will be that he inadvertently leaks, because as he speaks extemporaneously, he’ll pull something out of his hat that he heard in a briefing and say it,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who has participated in the process of briefing presidential candidates…

“It’s not an unreasonable concern that he’ll talk publicly about what’s supposed to stay in that room,” said another former senior intelligence official.

A currently serving U.S. official echoed some of those anxieties and wondered whether Trump would respect the discretion of the briefing and not use it to his advantage on the campaign trail.


It’s painfully easy to imagine Trump teasing audiences with hints about what he’s learned at briefings: “If you only knew how bad things really are, ugh! I thought they were bad but this country’s reputation has been wrecked, that I can tell you.” Although that’s not the real risk with him. The real risk is that he’d be going on and on about China or whatever and something classified would slip into his monologue without him even intending to put it there. Remember, this is a guy who said last year, when he was already leading in the polls, that he gets his military advice from watching “the shows.” All he’d have to do is confuse something he heard in a briefing with something he thought he heard on “the shows” and that would be that.

Although even if he did, what could Hillary say? “You should be more careful with classified info”? Try again, blue clown.

Maybe the real concern with briefing Trump is that the information will get back to his pal Putin, whom he may or may not have met and spoken with. Exit question via Jonathan Last: Could Trump get a security clearance with his background if he was applying for an IC job directly rather than being briefed as a nominee? I honestly don’t know. Intelligence professionals, any thoughts?

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John Sexton 3:20 PM on September 26, 2023