President Donald Trump uses his cellphone during a roundtable discussion at the White House in in Washington DC, on June 18, 2020.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Trump never fully understood the risks of revealing classified information, sources told NBC News.
In a 2019 meeting, he ignored warnings from intelligence officials and tweeted a classified satellite image.
He said he could “declassify anything” when he was being discouraged, one source told NBC News.
Former President Donald Trump declared he could “declassify anything” when officials tried to stop him from tweeting out a highly-classified satellite image in 2019, NBC News reported on Tuesday.
During his presidency, Trump didn’t fully understand the risks of revealing classified information and was cavalier with documents presented at intelligence briefings, multiple sources told NBC.
In one such instance in 2019, officials presented Trump with a highly-classified image of a failed Iranian missile test launch taken by a secret US spy satellite, NBC reported, citing multiple sources.
“We had this image of the Iranian missile blown up, and it was exquisite intelligence, and he didn’t even wait,” one former senior official told NBC. “As soon as we showed him, he said, ‘Hey, I’m tweeting this.'”
Several people, including then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and then-Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, tried to talk Trump out of it, but he ignored their warnings, the former official told NBC.
“He said, ‘Look, I’m the president, I can declassify anything,'” the official added.
Trump ended up tweeting the picture on August 30, 2019. Experts told NPR at the time that the image revealed some “pretty amazing capabilities that the public simply wasn’t privy to before.”
John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security advisor from 2018 to 2019, told NBC this week: “He tweeted it out, and that, of course, declassified it by definition but also showed what could happen when such a picture, even on a Twitter attachment, was then able to be analyzed by foreign intelligence services.”
Bolton added that sometimes when Trump would ask intelligence officials for other highly-classified documents, “we didn’t know what happened to them.”
“It was always a concern because he didn’t really fully understand the risks to sources and methods and other dangers of revealing classified information that it might get out to the wrong people,” Bolton said.
Doug London, a former CIA officer who helped assemble material for intelligence briefings at the time, told NBC that if Trump decided he liked something he saw, “you would have to wrestle it back.”
After the Iran satellite-photo incident, people briefing Trump started enlarging images on large posters so Trump could not take them, London told NBC.
NBC’s report came after FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week and seized about 20 boxes, including 11 sets of marked as top secret or sensitive.
The former president defended having the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, saying he had a “standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified.”
While the president does have broad power to declassify documents, there is a lengthier process involved that usually requires the approval of officials in other federal departments and agencies, The New York Times reported.
Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.