Why Trump Shouldn’t Have Access to US Secret Service After Jan. 20
Since first declaring that he was running for President in 2015, Donald Trump has posed a major national security risk that the American people will bear long after his tenure is over. Trump’s conduct in the White House was clear evidence that he puts his self-interest ahead of the American people, whether it be admiring the Russian government, denying that it has attacked our political processes, or lavishly praising and scathing President Vladimir Putin criticizes the US Intelligence Community and the FBI. Deselecting him seems an obvious way to mitigate the threat. As a former president, however, Trump will pose another national security risk.
Nearly five decades as a national security expert under eight presidents have taught me how important a president’s personal character is to U.S. security. Presidents must have the morals to earn the trust of the American people and uphold core American values. In no way has Trump failed even to meet the minimum standard of professional ethics and quality of personal morality. Current media reporting Just before the election, $421 million in unsecured loans were uncovered. The reports highlighted the obvious and alarming counterintelligence risks that these loans pose to the United States. A frightening scenario is that the owners of Trump’s debt, or actors like Putin who have the tremendous ability to get him out of debt, pressure Trump to make decisions that are beneficial to Russia in the final days of his presidency, and once serving as a conduit for Russian disinformation aren’t in the office or leaking intelligence information after he’s gone. While it is hard to imagine that any American president would do such a thing, what shatters the doubt that Trump is capable of such outrageous behavior is his consistent personal and professional approach to Putin and Russia’s interests, while addressing the critical undermines our country’s national security institutions.
Trump’s term ends in January. From today’s perspective, however, he will continue to receive intelligence information on important foreign policy issues. Making these briefings available to past presidents is partly out of courtesy, but also because past presidents can remain involved in important foreign policy matters. Before a past president deals with an issue, it is necessary that he understand current U.S. foreign policy goals as well as sensitive background information about the person, institution, or nation with which he is dealing. Assuming President Joe Biden follows custom, Trump would still have access to sensitive information that Russians would deem valuable. As chilling as it may seem, could a financially strong former president be pressured or blackmailed into revealing sensitive information to Moscow in exchange for financial facilitation and future Russian business considerations? As a former president and possibly even a return candidate, Trump could remain politically active, thereby benefiting Russians from his nurturing chaos and igniting division; All of this in exchange for partial or full absolution of its hundreds of millions of dollars in loans. Equally frightening is what else an enraged Trump, wounded by his failure to secure a second term, might do. The history of intelligence is filled with tales of hubris fueled by anger and a sense of personal injustice. Trump has already shown a knack for attacking those he believes have mistreated him or robbed him of his “divine right.” Considering how he has responded to even the smallest slights during his tenure, how might a “loser” Trump, now rejected by the American electorate and perhaps soon by mass-elected Republicans, react? Could he channel his anger by providing information to US opponents in revenge? This is not out of the realm of possibility as he has already done it exposed intelligence for political purposes and personal gain. Whether it’s a vengeful former President Trump, a venal former President Trump, or a combination of both, in the end the American people will pay the price.
Which begs the question: could President Biden mitigate future national security risks from Trump? There is no perfect solution, but there is a partial solution. A new president is not required to provide intelligence products to a former president. A simple step would be to revoke all access to intelligence information by Trump. Another, and perhaps better, option would be to apply routine decision-making standards for access to classified information; the kind of standard that applied to all Americans before they received a security clearance. With Trump’s unsettled finances, unclear ties to shady Russian figures, and his touted admiration for Russia and Putin, that would easily disqualify him from access to America’s secrets. As it should be.
[Editor’s note: Readers may also be interested in John Sipher’s “Is Trump a Russian Agent?: Explaining Terms of Art and Examining the Facts,” April 16, 2019]