Aug 8, 2017

How classified intelligence works

President Trump retweeted a report Tuesday from Fox News — sourced by anonymous U.S. intelligence officials — regarding North Korean missile movements. When asked for comment on the story later on Fox & Friends, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley refused to comment because the report dealt with "classified information."

Why it matters:

This isn't the first time that President Trump has been accused of sharing classified information — think back to May, when he told Russian officials about highly sensitive Israeli intel on ISIS in the Oval Office. And while the level of classification on the North Korean material is unknown, the information Trump shared with the Russians was reportedly designated as "code word" — even higher than top secret — so national security experts are worried about that foreign allies might refuse to work closely with the U.S. in the future should sensitive intelligence leaks keep coming from the president himself.

The facts:

Heads of various departments who own the information can designate it as "classified" and set the rules for declassification, per an Obama-era executive order. There are three levels of classification based on the severity of damage a disclosure would cause:

  • Top secret — "exceptionally grave damage to the national security"
  • Secret — "serious damage to the national security"
  • Confidential — "damage to the national security"

Bottom line: As commander-in-chief, a president has constitutional powers to classify and declassify information (and after declassifying it, disclose the information). Under the Espionage Act, anyone else's disclosure of classified information is a felony, and they could lose their job or security clearance, and face jail time.

Go deeper

John Kelly defends James Mattis against Trump attacks

John Kelly in the White House in July 2017. Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly defended James Mattis on Thursday after President Trump attacked the former defense secretary as "the world's most overrated general" and claimed on Twitter that he was fired.

What he's saying: “The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly told the Washington Post in an interview. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused."

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Attorney General Bill Barr said at a press conference Thursday that there was "no correlation" between his decision to order police to forcibly remove protesters from Lafayette Park and President Trump's subsequent visit to St. John's Episcopal Church earlier this week.

Driving the news: Barr was asked to respond to comments from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said Tuesday that he "did not know a photo op was happening" and that he does everything he can to "try and stay out of situations that may appear political."

Updates: Cities move to end curfews for George Floyd protests

Text reading "Demilitarize the police" is projected on an army vehicle during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Washington, D.C.. early on Thursday. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Several cities are ending curfews after the protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people led to fewer arrests and less violence Wednesday night.

The latest: Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are the latest to end nightly curfews. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted Wednesday night that "peaceful protests can continue without a curfew, while San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted that the city's curfew would end at 5 a.m. Thursday.