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 says Reinstate Monica 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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

By whom? That will make a large part of the difference as to how it is handled. If it is by the appropriate majority in Congress, (two thirds in the senate), a president may be impeached, resulting only in his removal from office. Another answer has already addressed impeachment, which is largely independent of any potential criminal prosecution.

All are accountable to report to the public and to the appropriate authorities such facts as they themselves are witnesses to, and all persons holding any office are responsible to perform the functions of that office.

A recent, well-documented example of "what happens":

In his book "Dereliction of Duty", Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson -- Bill Clinton's military aide for several years who held the control satchel infamously called the "nuclear football" -- publicized his eyewitness account of how the president actively dismantled national security efforts and created numerous breaches that literally risked complete and one-sided nuclear war not in our favor. He recounts how the president misplaced the nuclear launch codes during his affair with Monica Lewinsky, exposing the U.S. to non-retaliable nuclear attack for as long as several days. He details how the president and his entourage also stole outright hundreds of dollars worth of valuables while visiting a foreign embassy--not exactly a prudent foreign relations move. He is also documented to have regularly sexually assaulted female staff on Airforce One and aboard other aircraft.

This and many similar, non-isolated incidents led Patterson to conclude "the greatest security risk to the United States [is] the president himself."

The appendices to his book also include other witnesses including Caspar Weinberger's reports that the Clintons empowered and emboldened Saddam Hussein and North Korean dictators, and reports that the Clintons donated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of export-controlled technologies to the China, to perfect their intercontinental ballistic missile guidance systems, among many other things.

Numerous such other accounts have surfaced by those most knowledgeable. In the epilogue, To my knowledge, no official action was ever taken against Clinton for these acts of severe national security breach.

Nonetheless, Patterson introduces his book in these solemn tones:

"I hope it is also a warning to the American people that we must never allow the purveyors of such dangerous military policy and irresponsible foreign policy claim the power of presidency again."

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  • Any nonpartisan comments or feedback to justify the downvotes or improve my answer? – pygosceles Aug 15 '19 at 23:05
  • Does the portion of the answer about "export-controlled technologies" to "China" for ICBMs refer to John Stossel's report on "20/20", from circa 1997? If so, the answer grossly mischaracterizes the incident. (But it does not overstate the importance of the incident.) – Jasper Aug 15 '19 at 23:08
  • @Jasper Specifically, I am referring to the transmission of corrective information on a Chinese satellite crash by Loral Corporation, acting under the Clintons' direction. washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/campfin/stories/… There are other incidents. – pygosceles Aug 15 '19 at 23:16
  • Both of our comments are citing press accounts of the same incident. I was either unaware of, or had forgotten about, Loral having faxed a report to Long March. My point of view of the incident was from inside a division of Hughes that supplied parts to Loral for the satellite that was accidentally destroyed. Colleague(s) of mine participated in the accident investigation. My understanding was that the most basic aspects of the methodology and priority of the accident investigation were unintended critical technology transfers. – Jasper Aug 15 '19 at 23:33
  • For the record, whether or not something is unintended by a particular party does not alter its consequences for national security, nor does it eliminate accountability for those actions. – pygosceles Aug 16 '19 at 0:33

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