Since 1952, the parties’ nominees for president have received classified national security briefings. (Photo: Yahoo News/AP)
The FBI may be investigating whether Hillary Clinton’s private email server arrangement endangered top-secret materials, but the White House is confident she will properly handle any classified information she might get in CIA briefings arranged for the two parties’ presidential nominees.
Donald Trump? Not so much.
Since 1952, the U.S. intelligence community has given classified briefings to the Democratic and Republican nominees. The current occupant of the Oval Office receives similar, though more detailed, briefings. The goal is to permit the incoming commander in chief to hit the ground running when it comes to national security.
Some Democrats have suggested that Trump cannot be trusted with the country’s secrets. Just days ago, the presumptive GOP nominee was promoting a conspiracy theory from the National Enquirer in which Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Republicans, in turn, have charged that Clinton cannot be trusted because of her use of a private email system for official business throughout her tenure as secretary of state.
On Thursday, at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s daily briefing, a reporter asked whether the administration has confidence in Clinton’s handling of classified information.
“Yes, we do,” he said. “Secretary Clinton has obviously served this administration with distinction, and she’s got a lot of experience in understanding the need to protect classified information.”
What about Trump?
“We’ll have to see what decision the director of national intelligence makes. I guess I can’t offer my own assessment,” Earnest replied.
At another point, Earnest seemed to suggest that intelligence professionals might be … selective in the information they share with both candidates.
“They are committed to fulfilling the spirit of this bipartisan or even nonpartisan cooperation when it comes to sensitive national security issues,” Earnest said. “At the same time, they also will carry out those activities consistent with their understanding about treating this information sensitively.”
Moreover, he added, “the White House will not be interfering” in “what information they provide, how often they provide it, whether or not it’s the same information for the two candidates.”
The classified information issue is not (just) a Beltway parlor game. Then President Harry Truman authorized the first candidate briefings in part because of his own experience: When he stepped into the job in April 1945, he had not been briefed about American efforts to develop the atomic bomb.