07.28.16

Trump comments raise new concerns about intelligence briefings (USA Today)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump's entreaty to Russian hackers to find rival Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails has renewed the debate over a decades-long tradition of providing major presidential candidates with classified intelligence briefings.

Trump told Fox News Thursday that his comment — which drew a firestorm of protests from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia — was simply a sarcastic reference to Clinton's e-mail scandal. But the mere suggestion that a foreign adversary be enlisted in espionage against a political rival led Democrats in Congress to call on President Obama to cancel the briefings.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid even suggested that intelligence officials give Trump a fake briefing. "I would suggest to the intelligence agencies, if you’re forced to brief this guy, don’t tell him anything. Just fake it, because this man is dangerous,” Reid said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “Fake it. Pretend you’re doing a briefing, but you can’t give the guy any information."

Those briefings are expected to start soon. Under a tradition started by President Harry Truman in 1952, the nominees of both major political parties receive classified briefings to prepare them for the presidency.

Trump accepted the Republican nomination a week ago, but has not yet been given a briefing, said an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the briefings. In order to be even-handed and non-partisan, the process doesn't begin until both major parties have concluded their nominating conventions. Even then it may take days or weeks to schedule and arrange them.

Questions, too, have been raised about Clinton's capacity to receive classified information, given an FBI investigation that found she mishandled classified e-mails that she sent to and from a home-based e-mail server off the State Department network. That investigation absolved her of criminal activity, but the State Department is conducting a review of whether she should maintain the security clearance that most former officials of her stature keep after leaving office.

But revocation of her security clearance would have no impact on her intelligence briefings, because they're provided to her as a candidate at Obama's direction.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that the briefings are an important part of the presidential transition process, which is a top priority for Obama.

"The administration is confident that they can both provide relevant and sufficient briefings to the two major party presidential candidates while still protecting sensitive national security information," he said. He underscored that the same information will be provided to both candidates.

That evenhandedness could mean that both candidates get only a basic briefing.

“You can’t brief just one candidate," Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico Thursday. "They will give largely the same briefing to both. They will not be disclosing to Donald Trump, I am confident, anything revealing sources and methods. I think he will get a very, very top-line brief. And what’s more, that’s probably the only digestible form for him anyway."