Former Presidents And Security Clearance
As the criminal investigation of former President Trump continues for stealing and concealing highly classified documents and obstructing the investigation of that espionage, questions have arisen regarding whether the former President retained his security clearance after leaving office. The argument seems to be that unless his security clearance was revoked he obviously still has it. That argument is wrong.
It’s wrong because a security clearance is never actually granted to a sitting President. The President does not go through the process of applying for a security clearance, having his background investigated, and his application for clearance granted (or denied). Can one imagine the result if a sitting President failed his security clearance review? That cannot happen because no such review occurs.
While a President is not granted security clearance he is simply empowered to view any classified material because of the powers, duties and obligations of his office. Because of his presumptive power to access classified material there is no point to any security review to grant him clearance. A president accesses classified material, not because he has been granted a security clearance, but because as President he has the power to see it whether he has a security clearance or not.
For Donald Trump all of that came to a crashing end at precisely Noon Eastern time January 20, 2021. At that moment the Constitution mandated that his term ended, he was no longer President, he no longer that title, or the duties, responsibilities or powers of the Presidency. His power and ability to access classified documents was reduced to that of any other American citizen. The security clearance, that he never really had, was not “revoked” at this time anymore than it was ever granted. He simply lost the power incumbent to the office to see classified materials.
To be sure, a sitting President sometimes seeks advice from a predecessor and allows him to review something classified, perhaps to clarify what was intended at the time. However, that is rooted only in the sitting President’s authority, not any retained clearance by the predecessor.
Donald Trump is not permitted to even view the classified documents he stole and hid in an unsecured closet at a resort for oligarchs.