You may not have to imagine the scenario, actually. Based on precedent, a campaigning Donald Trump could have access to national security intelligence without going through traditional clearance. This will probably have the exact results you think it would:
- Donald Trump talks about top secret information on the campaign trail.
- Donald Trump uses top secret information for his own interests.
Think this is a bad dream? It’s a very real possibility.
If he becomes the presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, he’ll also obtain something most real-estate developers will never receive: his very own top-secret briefings, delivered by the US intelligence community. And there appears to be little stopping him from repeating to his roaring crowds what he hears there.
Providing classified briefings to presidential candidates has been a tradition since 1952. President Harry S Truman established it: he had little experience with intelligence, including critical information about the atomic bomb project, when he suddenly became president after Franklin D Roosevelt died in 1945.
During the 1952 presidential election, Truman authorized the CIA to brief the Republican nominee, Dwight D Eisenhower, as well as the Democratic one, Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. Truman wanted to be sure the two men could stay abreast of current dangers, prepare for presidential national security responsibilities and remain aware of topics that might damage the nation.
Under normal circumstances, this is a good idea. Incoming presidents need to know what to expect on their way in. Even if they don’t win the election, it’s not like they can spread the intelligence around, because it’s very illegal to do so.
However, these are not normal circumstances, and the Donald Trump campaign is not a normal campaign. It is designed to be disruptive to the political process as a whole, while simultaneously profiting him – even if Donald Trump loses, he has rebuilt an entire fan base… nay, a cult… that will support him in his future endeavors.
So, in having top secret intelligence that no one else save Hillary Clinton (assuming she is the candidate and not indicted) will have, Donald Trump will have something to use in his favor, and Donald Trump is not a man who wastes an opportunity.
As the piece from The Guardian goes on to mention, there is always the chance that Donald Trump says “Here’s what the government doesn’t want you to know!” like a terrible advertiser you can hear on a lot of talk radio stations. He can call out Iran, North Korea, Russia, ISIS, or whoever else he wants to and say what they’re doing now. He can use that information for his own business interests, even. Hell, he could tweet about it at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night.
Trump has shown no self-control when it comes to talking about literally any subject, including bragging about his penis size during a nationally televised debate or publishing Lindsey Graham’s personal cell phone number in anger. What on earth would stop him from spilling the beans about classified intelligence? The legality of it? He could pardon himself – theoretically – should he win the presidency. He can fight it in court for years using his allegedly vast resources if he loses. He can be an absolute burden to the U.S. government simply by having this knowledge.
He is a negotiator. He is a bully. He is a strong-arming megalomaniac. Him having this information would be a disaster, yet a significant portion of the voters seem to want it to be a distinct possibility.