With the Republican and Democratic conventions fast approaching, intelligence officials are already mapping out their approach to providing classified briefings to the eventual nominees.
It’s a decades-long tradition embedded in the transition of power, but several former high-ranking officials have expressed concerns to ABC News over what they consider “unprecedented” circumstances facing both current front-runners and their capabilities to responsibly handle sensitive intel.
According to a former intelligence official involved in past briefing processes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, after the conventions, President Obama or a leading national security advisor will coordinate with the director of National Intelligence and the CIA to determine the content of an introductory classified briefing for both of the nominees.
“Until somebody’s elected president, most of the information is what I’d call analytical, sophisticated, carefully thought-out thoughts about where things are going, where trend lines are, things to watch,” this former official told ABC News. “It’s more of a description of the landscape and where the landmines are and where the active volcanoes are rather than getting into the capabilities.”
The White House has so far suggested it will not interfere with Clinton or Trump's receiving the briefings, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest would not answer whether President Obama is comfortable with Trump's handling classified info.
Concerns Over Trump
In the past, Trump has taken to Twitter to promote conspiracy theories, was a leading promoter of the "birther" movement, and, with no experience in public office, has never been a recipient of classified or sensitive intelligence.
But in an interview with ABC News, former CIA Director Gen. Mike Hayden said the outgoing president is obligated to provide the briefings to the nominees whether he wants to or not.
“I would share the general concern that people have expressed," Hayden said of Trump’s penchant for what some have described as recklessness, “but you’ve got real constitutional considerations at work here. One of the great powers of this country is the peaceful transfer of power. There are things that need to be done, particularly for a president elect, and you need to go about doing those things even if this particular president-elect might seem a bit more ... I don’t know fill in the blank.”
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Trump said he was “eager” to start regularly receiving classified briefings.
But House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff has questioned the ultimate value of providing Trump classified information. “The practice of providing intelligence briefings to the presidential nominees of both parties is a sound one,” Schiff, D-California, said. “Whether it would do any good is another [question].”
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama, said he has met with Trump to discuss foreign policy and has no doubts about his capacity.
“Mr. Trump is preparing to become the leader of the free world and I have no qualms with him being presented classified information to better prepare him to be that leader,” Flynn said in an interview with ABC News. “The one person in this race who cannot handle classified information is Secretary Clinton. She’s proven that.”
Since leaving his post, Flynn has expressed criticism of both Clinton and President Obama’s handling of foreign policy, but there’s no evidence he was ever pushed out.
Clinton Faces Ongoing Investigation
In her capacity as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton had virtually unfettered access to the nation’s top secrets, but her use of a private email server during that time has led to a formal FBI inquiry about how she may have handled that information, leading some intelligence officials to doubt her judgment.
Flynn argues that Clinton should be ineligible to receive the briefings. “If you mishandled classified information unintentionally you immediately have your clearance suspended -- at a minimum -- until the investigation is complete,” Flynn said. “So Hillary Clinton should not even have access to classified information until this investigation is over.”
The FBI investigation into Clinton's private email server is still ongoing and so far no one has been accused formally of any criminal wrongdoing.
Clinton says she only used her account for unclassified email and that no information in her emails was marked classified at the time she sent or received them.
The former unnamed intelligence official speaking to ABC News said Clinton’s status is “unprecedented” in the history of presidential candidates.
“I don’t really recall any time when I’ve seen such, what I’ll call, ‘willful negligence’ in handling classified information,” the former official said. “I can tell you I have counseled people before on the rules and they ignored the rules and they’ve paid a penalty.”
While it would not weigh in on Trump, the White House maintained President Obama has no doubts about his former secretary of state's again receiving classified briefings.
Clinton and Trump's campaigns did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment.
In the end, this former intelligence official said it is less about whether each candidate would willfully compromise classified information, but how responsibly they would put it to use.
“I think Donald Trump has many secrets, and I think Hillary Clinton does too,” the former intelligence official said. “So I don’t think either of them have a problem with keeping a secret. It’s a question of whether they have the wrong judgment about when to use secret information.”
ABC News' John Parkinson and Ali Weinberg contributed to this report.