Trump defends his ‘absolute right’ to share intel photo of Iranian launch site

(Video screenshot)

On Friday, President Donald Trump taunted Iran over a disastrous failed rocket launch by posting a high-resolution photo of the damaged launch site. In response, the media pounced, accusing him of sharing classified information and placing America’s national security at risk.

But in an impromptu briefing on the White House lawn with reporters later that afternoon, the president explained why this claim — much like almost every other claim posited by the media — was false.

“I just wished Iran well. They had a big problem, and we had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do … and we’ll see what happens,” he explained.

Fast-forward to the 7:25 mark in the video below to hear him for yourself:

Fact-check: TRUE.

As Idaho Sen. James Risch rightly noted during Trump’s first year in office, “The minute the president speaks about it to someone, he has the ability to declassify anything at any time without any process.”

The statement was rated true by PolitiFact at the time on the basis that “[t]he president’s classification and declassification powers are broad,” to the point that he and he only is “ultimately responsible for classification and declassification.”

Even the Supreme Court has recognized this right via its decision in the 1998 case Department of Navy vs. Egan.

“The President, after all, is the ‘Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,'” the ruling for that case reads. “His authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security … flows primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President, and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant.”

In short, the president can “classify and declassify at will,” as said to PolitiFact by Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy.

Dovetailing back to the photo, which can be seen below, it specifically shows the aftermath of the Iranian Safir SLV launch, which reportedly ended prematurely when the rocket exploded on the launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran:

Despite the facts as outlined by the president, PolitiFact and even the Supreme Court, of course the media pounced promptly after Trump posted the tweet above.

“President Donald Trump has released a photograph of an apparently failed Iranian rocket launch and said the US had nothing to do with it, prompting concerns he disclosed classified information,” The Guardian reported, citing what appeared to be its own concerns.

“Intelligence experts said Trump may have exposed a previously unknown level of resolution US spy satellites have achieved, or that, somehow, US intelligence was able to get a closer shot of the launch site from an overflying aircraft.”

However, not a single intelligence expert was actually named …

The recriminations on social media were even louder. One “occasional media commentator” even went so far as to assert that “[t]he courts have recently ruled that merely because Trump utters classified information that does not, in itself, render it declassified.”

Another suggested that the president just committed treason:

Missing from their criticisms were the fact that the photo shared by the president wasn’t classified anymore as per his own constitutionally guaranteed powers.

That being said, the image was admittedly procured from a classified briefing, according to CNBC: “A U.S. defense official told CNBC that the picture in Trump’s tweet, which appeared to be a snapshot of a physical copy of the satellite image, was included in a Friday intelligence briefing.”

But as noted earlier, the president can “classify and declassify at will,” including via Twitter.

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Vivek Saxena

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