Hypothetically, what happens if the President of the United States is deemed a risk to U.S. national security?

If, for example, the President engages in a pattern of (perhaps otherwise entirely legal) behavior that security experts — especially those in his own government — deem compromising to US security, do other branches of government have any recourse? Are there actions that can be taken directly by the security services or law enforcement?

Critically, are the security services at least required to report their concerns, perhaps publicly?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am May 18 '17 at 19:23
  • @SamIam How did this get closed as a dupe? I'm not even sure how to explain that it's not a question about "gross incompetence", nor about "impeachment" per se, if that's not obvious from the question itself. – orome Nov 10 '18 at 20:49


From Article II Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

"High crimes and misdemeanors" is a legal term of art understood more broadly than literal crimes and misdemeanors.

Feldman, a legal historian of serious stripes, explained that the phrase was a British expression. The “high” is meant to modify both the word “crimes” and the word “misdemeanors,” and does not, as is often assumed, relate to the seriousness of an offense – but rather to the nature of the offense. “High” meant “governmental” or “official,” as opposed to “personal” or ‘private.” “Crimes and misdemeanors” according to Feldman, also doesn’t mean what we think it means. For starters, they aren’t two different things. The modern definition of “misdemeanor” may imply wrongdoing of minimal seriousness, but no such distinction existed at the time of the Constitutional Convention. Why use two words when one would have sufficed? Feldman’s take is that the framers were simply “trying to sound fancy.” But the crux of Feldman’s argument was that the very concept of “crimes and misdemeanors” does not mean violation of actual criminal statutes. Instead, this phrase relates to any action “performed in an official capacity by a government official that violates the basic principles of government.” (From an article summarizing Noah Feldman's analysis of this clause.)

25th Amendment

Section 4:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.


Congress could make it a crime to do certain things that a President is doing or not doing that they believe are detrimental to national security, although their sphere of power to legislate is limited, and can't touch many aspects relating to national security.

For example, they could compel the White House to maintain and publish visitor logs. (Eg. H.R.1711 - MAR-A-LAGO Act)

Neither impeachment nor the 25th Amendment has ever been used to remove a President from power.

  • Regarding statutes, it would be interesting if 1) such statues regarding national security already exist and 2) what happens if a president violates the statutes (I assume nothing, except if impeachment proceedings are started?) – tim May 16 '17 at 16:12
  • In US History Impeachment has only happened twice, and nearly happened a third. In all three cases the party in power in both houses of Congress was the opposite of the party in power in the White House. So if that is any guide, you cannot expect impeachment in the current "excitement" until at least 2018. – T.E.D. May 16 '17 at 16:32
  • (...well, 2019, when the Congress and Senate elected in 2018 are seated) – T.E.D. May 16 '17 at 16:38

Yes, they have recourse.

The security officials can (and in case of certain high level positions, should - according to the rules) brief Congress. Which obviously acts as check and balance on the Executive branch - by either passing laws; or holding impeachment hearings, or other less drastic ways of influencing the Executive branch.

Then there's of course the 1963 type recourse, if you subscribe to a certain type of conspiracy theories.

  • Must Congress find such a briefing compelling? For example, can the security services, in effect, "demand" that Congress (perhaps in closed session) act? Or is their best recourse to leak such information publicly so that enough political pressure is applied (in a hypothetical world with a non-comatose citizenry) that Congress acts? – orome May 16 '17 at 15:24
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    Presumably the security officials are in the executive branch, and may be issued orders through their chain of command. @raxacoricofallapatorius no one can directly force congress to act on anything ever. – user9389 May 16 '17 at 15:38
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    @raxacoricofallapatorius - they can demand anything they want. They aren't guaranteed to have the demand agreed to. – user4012 May 16 '17 at 15:47
  • @user4012: A related question (or part of this one) then is whether in that case the security services themselves can be compelled (e.g., to report to Congress or to the public about the transgression). Either by the nature of the transgression, to act; or by the President himself, not to. – orome May 16 '17 at 15:48
  • @raxacoricofallapatorius - Congress can subpoena anyone for any reason. They aren't guaranteed answers if executive doesn't WANT to answer (but your question was in case they do want) – user4012 May 16 '17 at 15:53

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