By Philip Bump
At some point, perhaps as early as next week, federal agents will sit down with Donald Trump and tell him classified information about the government and our foreign-policy efforts.
For Democrats, this is a point of both anguish and political calculation. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid has suggested that Trump's murky ties to foreign interests and general inability to not speak his mind should be reason enough for the people briefing him to simply make things up. On the Republican side, there are similar calls to ban Hillary Clinton from being briefed, including by Trump, pointing to her use of a personal email server while she served as secretary of state.
And here's the thing: If he wanted to, President Obama could deny either or both of them the now-traditional briefings. The process doesn't work the way you might think.
For one thing, the briefings are not legally mandated. They are a courtesy provided by the sitting president, nothing more. In an email, historian Michael Beschloss explained that the process began with President Harry Truman. In 1952, as Truman was preparing to leave the White House, he ordered that the CIA brief Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson "so that they would campaign with greater insight and also know key national security players once elected." (A bigger problem, he notes, for Stevenson, a governor, than Eisenhower, who'd commanded the Allied invasion of Normandy.) No president has to do it; presidents a century ago didn't.
For another, the briefings are not an ongoing series of updates about everything affecting our foreign policy. They aren't as regular or as detailed as the Presidential Daily Brief, for example. It's at most a couple of in-person meetings between the candidate, a staffer and representatives of the American intelligence community.
Lanhee Chen, who worked as the chief policy adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, spoke with The Washington Post by phone on Thursday. Chen was the one staffer that attended Mitt Romney's two briefings four years ago.
Read the rest here (including the fascinating story of how Nixon thought the CIA helped JFK with the briefings during their presidential race)