Is the US President allowed to share classified information with his spouse?

In a typical married couple, people talk about their work day with their spouse. When the President is relaxing after a long day in the Oval Office, what is he/she allowed to share with his/her spouse about his day? No classified information whatsoever? Are classified documents supposed to stay in the Office, with his spouse not allowed anywhere near them?

Legally and technically, the President cannot share classified information with anybody who is not authorized. That includes his family. I’m sure there are protocols about what documents can be taken into the living quarters, because those are open to a large number of people besides the family.

I can’t think of any major revelations about First Ladies knowing classified information. Eleanor certainly knew nothing about WWII and its secrets. It’s just as hard to imagine Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, or Nixon sharing anything with their spouses.

It’s too soon for the tell-alls from Bush43 and Obama, but I bet we won’t be surprised there either.

The interesting question is how much Hillary as Secretary of State could share with Bill. Presidents sometimes talk to ex-Presidents to brief them. Why couldn’t she? And what will be his classification status as First Dude?

How about Edith Wilson?

I’ve read that some Presidents had military aides whose duties included securing classified documents left on the President’s desk. Bill Donovan, J.E. Hoover, and Gen Marshall didn’t much trust FDR’s pal Harry Hopkins. Or Eleanor, for that matter.

Interesting point. Does anyone know if ex-presidents retain their clearance level? But also, is a president able, by himself, to clear another person to see classified info? If so, he or she could clear former presidents as needed.

Security clearances lapse once employment ends. Bill would likely have no more casual access to information than any other spouse, unless he is filling an official role as an adviser to the President. Even then, it would be on a need-to-know basis.

The President determines what is classified. He can tell anyone anything he wants.


And I mean that seriously. What legislation authorizes this?

To quote Richard Nixon: “If the President does it, it isn’t illegal.”

How did that turn out for him, btw?

My wife couldn’t discuss a student’s test results with me and my daughter can’t discuss a patient’s medical records, so why should the First Lady get a pass?

The classification system is regulated by Executive Order, so it stands to reason that the President has the ability to make changes to it.

Because they can’t share that information with anyone without the permission of the student or patient. But classified information may be shared with people cleared to see it. So if, as the previous poster claimed, the President can grant clearance, s/he could share the information.

Sorry, but that is incorrect. My clearance continued to exist after my retirement from the Navy. I was able to use it to gain my next employment, and my new company picked up my old clearance. I have been re-investigated since, but your clearance runs out when your investigation runs out: 10 years for Secret and TS, 5 years for higher.

yes, you see job ads where they say they prefer to hire someone who already has clearance. It makes it much easier for the company that hires you.

BTW there are also investigations for jobs that are not related to the military. You can even have to go through a big background check just to visit an IRS building.

Here’s the entire text of that Executive Order.

It’s quite long and I didn’t read every word. However, the closest I found to a pertinent entry is Section 4:

Hard to justify how a spouse has a “need-to-know” just so the President can indulge in pillow talk. Beyond that I see nothing that allows a President, any more than any other “agency head,” to “tell anyone anything he wants.”

Many people have jobs where they know confidential material which they are not supposed to share with family members. Lawyers. Accountants, I expect. All health care providers. Anybody working on military projects. Many government workers. Many people in industry. The list goes on.

Not all are breaking the law if they blab (for example, my sister would merely lose her job, I think…), but most are. Certainly all healthcare workers.

It’s really not that unusual.

I’m sure many still do share confidences.

Agency heads are subject to executive orders. The president isn’t. The president is the executive, not the ordered.

By way of analogy:

Say I take my car somewhere and hand it off to a valet parking service. The valet, seeing that I have a very nice car, takes it for a joy ride and accidentally leaves it unlocked with the keys in the ignition, and the car later gets stolen. Valet would likely lose his job, and may be liable for criminal prosecution, depending on the local laws.

Take the parking attendant out of it, and I leave the car unlocked and it gets stolen. Yeah, my car is stolen, and that sucks, but I’m not going to lose my job, nor am I going to face criminal charges.

If the rules regarding classification are governed by executive order, the president has the authority to determine the rules regarding who can receive access; one of those rules could very easily be the president’s personal judgment. Anyone beneath the president would have to follow the president’s guidelines when granting access to classified information, but the president could do as he wished. He may still decide that it’s not a good idea to share classified information with his spouse, and from all appearances, that seems to have been the decision of most (if not all) of our current and former presidents. However, there’s no legal reason for that - just one of prudence.

Note, however, that all of that would only apply to classification schemes governed by executive order. If there were any such schemes that had been enacted by Congress and signed into law, then the president could not authorize classification by personal fiat, unless that privilege was explicitly written into the law. I’m not familiar enough with our classification laws and rules to know whether such things actually exist, however.

Awesome sequential entry:

Definitely, we should call him Edith Wilson.