As Donald Trump approaches his White House exit, officials have become increasingly concerned about protecting national security secrets.
The Washington Post spoke to a number of analysts as well as former and current officials who say president checks all the boxes "of a classic counterintelligence risk." They point to Trump's frequent attacks on federal agencies and the so-called "deep state," suggesting political elites have consistently tried to undermine his administration and secure his downfall. This combativeness has been on full display over the past week, as POTUS has consistently accused Democrats—and some Republicans—of cheating him out of a 2020 presidential victory by throwing out baseless claims of voter fraud and suppression.
Trump's perceived bitterness over his loss to Joe Biden could lead him to undermine national security by declassifying sensitive information as a lame duck president, or revealing it in his post-presidency.
"Anyone who is disgruntled, dissatisfied or aggrieved is a risk of disclosing classified information, whether as a current or former officeholder," said David Priess, a former CIA officer and author of The President’s Book of Secrets, told the Post. "Trump certainly fits that profile."
Some officials have also highlighted the possibility of Trump using government secrets for financial gain. They point to Trump's foreign business deals and his mountain of debt he'll reportedly face once he's out of office. Having something as valuable as U.S. classified information could be traded "in exchange for favors ... or to get back at his perceived enemies."
"People with significant debt are always of grave concern to security professionals," said Larry Pfeiffer, a veteran intelligence officer and former chief of staff to CIA Director Michael V. Hayden. "The human condition is a frail one. And people in dire situations make dire decisions. Many of the individuals who’ve committed espionage against our country are people who are financially vulnerable."
Another concern is that Trump will excessively destroy documents during the last few months of his presidency, potentially causing big problems for the Biden administration. Although the Presidential Records Act requires the commander in chief to preserve all documents related to their duties, Politico points out the act is relatively toothless as "it has no real enforcement mechanism." Trump could potentially destroy physical documents, audio recordings, and electronic files that may shed a damning light on his presidency.
A White House official told Politico that the administration preserves "everything we have to preserve," but refused to say whether anything had been removed from the National Security Council's code word classified system.
"I’m not going to talk about any of that," the official said. "But we comply with everything. Like, we’re really actually not criminals."
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