When an individual gains access to restricted information, he or she is “read in” – a process of signing documents from scratch, recognizing legal requirements not to share information about sensitive programs with unauthorized persons or classified documents in unauthorized places to preserve. place. When they leave such jobs, they are “read,” again acknowledging in writing their legal responsibilities and declaring that they have no classified documents in their possession.
David Priess, a former CIA officer who is now the publisher of Lawfare, a national security website and podcast producer, said presidents are not read from secret programs when they leave office. That, he said, “is because presidents aren’t formally read in.”
Said Priess: ‘There is a myth that presidents have a formal security clearance. They do not.”
The “Commander in Chief has the ability to classify or declassify documents,” Priess said, having been elected president by the American people. “A former president may access restricted classified material after his term in office to assist in the writing of memoirs or at the discretion of the current president, but a formal security clearance is not involved.”
Email shows White House attorney agreed in 2021 that documents Trump had should go to archives
In previous cases of wrongful handling of classified cases involving non-presidents, the formal paperwork of reading classified cases has been an important part of the investigation. When retired general and former CIA director David H. Petraeus pleaded guilty to mishandling of classified information in 2015, for example, the court papers stated that he: repeatedly signed documents stating that he would not improperly share or store confidential material.
Petraeus has signed at least 14 such nondisclosure agreements over the course of his career in the military and intelligence services, including a 2006 statement that he will “return any materials that may have come into my possession or for which I am responsible by reason of such access, to request of an authorized representative of the United States Government or upon the termination of my employment or other relationship with the United States Government.”
That same statement says Petraeus understood that failing to return such material upon request could be a violation of the Espionage Act — the same part of the criminal code cited this month in the FBI’s search warrant for Trump’s Mar. home. -a-Lago. .
In 2012, when Petraeus left the CIA, he signed a document stating, “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody or control at this time.” That document later became part of the case against him.
But Trump, like his predecessors, has apparently not signed any such papers, which could have legal significance for the way prosecutors view his case.
The Trump investigation arose out of a dispute in which the National Archives repeatedly pressed the former president to provide material considered government property under the Presidential Records Act. Ultimately, Trump advisers handed over 15 boxes of material, including, the agency said, more than 100 classified documents, some top secret.
The return of those boxes from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in January set off alarm bells in the administration that the former president or his aides had misrepresented and preserved significant amounts of sensitive national defense information. But Trump’s position as a former president means that the criminal investigation may necessarily focus more on what Trump was doing as of May, when he received a grand jury subpoena for all remaining classified-mark material, rather than his actions regarding until handed over items in January.
If Trump didn’t fully comply with the subpoena, experts said, he could be in legal jeopardy regardless of whether he was read from secret programs when he left office.
“It’s another reason why criminally investigating and prosecuting a former president is complicated,” said Brandon Van Grack, a private-practice attorney who previously worked on undisclosed assault cases when he was a federal prosecutor. “What it emphasizes is that the criminal case is focused on what happened after May, not what happened before.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on how the apparent lack of a Trump read or read could affect prosecutors’ legal analysis of the facts in the Trump case.
John F. Kelly, a former Trump chief of staff who has said he disliked classification rules and distrusted intelligence officials, said government officials should have given the 45th president some sort of farewell debrief on classified matters and documents as he left the White House.
“It would have been important to read to him because I hoped he wouldn’t break all these rules about classified material. The important message would have been, ‘Once you’re not the president, all the rules apply to you,’ Kelly said.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether the former president received any form of exit briefing about classified material. Trump has criticized the FBI for ransacking his home, and his defenders have claimed he released the material he took before leaving office — though no evidence has been made public that he went through the process of doing so. .
FBI’s Search for Mar-a-Lago Followed Months of Defiance, Trump Delays
On Monday, Trump’s attorneys filed court documents to appoint a special master to review the materials seized during the August search — a curious request given that such appointments are generally made to handle attorney cases. client secrecy, not classified information, and that the request came two weeks after the search, meaning law enforcement officials have been reviewing the seized material for quite some time.
A Florida federal judge who received that request has asked Trump’s legal team to explain why they did it, giving the attorneys until Friday to respond.
Misuse of national security equipment isn’t the only crime under investigation in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, and Trump’s status as a former president may not lessen his legal risk from the two other possible criminal charges listed on the search warrant: destruction of records and the concealment or mutilation of government material.
Still, Ashley Deeks, a law professor at the University of Virginia and until recently deputy legal counsel to the National Security Council, said the laws and practices regarding classified information put a president in a somewhat unique position.
“Since the president himself is the ultimate classification authority, it makes sense that agencies would not formally read aloud to presidents in classified programs,” Deeks said. “As for former presidents, Congress itself acknowledged in statutes that former presidents would still have access to at least some of their data, although Congress has also made it clear that former presidents do not personally own that data.”