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Yes, Trump Might Have Had Good Reasons to Give the Russians Information

I guess one good thing about the Trump coverage in the legacy media is that it has become a full employment policy for everyone in punditry. (Who here knows that "pundit" is a loanword from Hindi/Sanskrit? It is, look it up.)

It's a shame, though, that so much of it is coming from either people who are completely uninformed or, worse, people who are well-informed but don't think truth suits their purposes. One of those that has been particularly galling me is the one about "OMG Trump revealed code-word classified data to the Russians."

If you're not completely familiar with the idea, I wrote about the details in a story about Edward Snowden and another about Hillary Clinton's emails, but to make it short and sweet, a code word is applied to something classified when the classified information is in a particular compartment, usually because of a particular need to protect a source or method. If you're a Tom Clancy fan, you might remember the book The Cardinal of the Kremlin. The "Cardinal" in the title is the code name of a source very highly placed inside the upper ranks of the Soviet government; it was also the code word assigned to the compartment for people who knew the Cardinal's true identity. That compartment was kept very small because the more people who don't know a secret, the more people who cannot possibly leak it.

This comes to mind because there's a scene in the book -- and I don't have it near at hand, so this is by memory -- in which the president asks who "Cardinal" is, and the director of Central Intelligence replies that while the president can demand that information, the DCI would really really not like to reveal it, because basically, the president doesn't have the need to know.

The point here is that while the president is cleared for everything as commander-in-chief, need-to-know still applies, and the CinC doesn't actually need to know everything. In fact, it's better that he doesn't, and that applies to every president from George Washington on.

Now, classification authority derives from the president's status as CinC, but a mere reference to the Constitution isn't enough to define the rules that the intelligence community uses, so there are executive orders that establish the major details of the policy. The most current one is Executive Order 13526; that's where things like "TOP SECRET" and the various special access programs are defined. (The Snowden article goes through this in detail, if you're interested.)

It also establishes in no uncertain terms that all classification decisions derive from the authority of the president, and that the president has the final authority over the classification of anything, no matter what. This means that, by definition, it is impossible for the president to release something without permission.