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Trump Refusing To Take Intelligence Briefings

Donald Trump Shrug

Donald Trump is turning away the briefers from the intelligence community assigned to give him the same regular intelligence briefings that President Obama receives:

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower — at least so far — than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said.

A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, by contrast, has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election, officials said.

Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority.

But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies’ capabilities and findings during the campaign.

A senior U.S. official who receives the same briefing delivered to President Obama each day said that devoting time to such sessions would help Trump get up to speed on world events.

“Trump has a lot of catching up to do,” the official said.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a senior member of Trump’s transition team, dismissed the issue, saying that Trump has devoted significant attention to security matters even while meeting with world leaders and assembling his administration.

“National security is Donald Trump’s No. 1 priority and I think he’s taking it very seriously,” Nunes said in an interview. “Look how many leaders he’s met with, how many phone calls he’s done, positions he’s filled. People who are being critical need to get a life.”

Trump was given an initial briefing within days of his election victory, and took part in a second session with senior U.S. intelligence analysts Tuesday in New York before he departed to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday, officials said. Trump turned other briefing opportunities away.

A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, the office that oversees the production of the daily presidential brief, declined to comment. Spokesmen for the Trump transition did not respond to requests for comment.

The President’s Daily Brief, as the classified document is known, is designed to provide a summary of key security developments and insights from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as an update on covert programs being run overseas by the CIA. It is typically delivered each morning by intelligence analysts selected because of their experience and expertise for the prestigious job.

The contents are among the most closely guarded secrets in Washington, but it is likely that recent versions of the brief covered developments including the resumption of Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria and the disruption of an alleged Islamic State terrorism plot in France.

The briefings have for decades been made available well before Inauguration Day to newly elected presidents as a way of deepening their understanding of foreign developments. Spy agencies are also eager to cultivate a relationship with the executive who will serve as their most important customer and set their priorities for the next four years.

Former intelligence officials and experts said that presidents-elect have adopted varied approaches to how and when the daily brief is delivered, but that Trump is getting fewer than most at this stage.

“His pace is not as frequent as most recent presidents-elect, but it is not unprecedented over the decades-long scope of these briefings,” said David Priess, a former CIA officer and PDB briefer during the George W. Bush administration.

After his election in 2008, President Obama took part not only in regular intelligence briefings but also scheduled “deep dives” on key subjects including Iran’s nuclear program and covert CIA operations, including the accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.

“During the transition, President Obama was an avid consumer of intelligence,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director when Obama was elected.

President George W. Bush’s first briefing was delayed until Dec. 5 because of the Florida election recount. But Bush, whose father had served as CIA director, asked for daily briefings for the remainder of the transition.

President Bill Clinton got his first post-race briefing on Nov. 13, 1992 — 10 days after the election. He received daily intelligence briefings almost every working day of the rest of the transition time in Little Rock

“The last three presidents-elect used the intelligence briefings offered during the transition to literally study the national security issues that they would be facing and the world leaders with whom they would be interacting as president,” said Michael Morell, former deputy CIA director, who supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign.

“The president-elect is missing out on a golden opportunity to learn about the national security threats and challenges facing our nation,” Morell said, “knowledge that would be extremely valuable to have when he takes the oath of office and when he steps into the Situation Room for the first time.”

Given the obvious ignorance that Trump displayed during the campaign, including such ridiculous notions as the idea that he knew more about fighting ISIS than the Generals in the Pentagon, so now that he’s actually going to become President in less than two months, it would seem especially important for him to have access to all the information that he’s going to need to govern on Day One. This is especially true in the national security field where his knowledge is particularly lacking, and where it’s likely that the first crisis of his Presidency will come from, and his reliance on advisers such as retired General Michael Flynn seems to indicate a penchant for believing even the most ridiculous notions in the foreign policy realm. While it may be the case that Trump will also have someone like Mitt Romney at his side, it’s still Trump who will be  making the final decision and it would seem essential that he have all the information he needs at his fingertips, especially  the analysis that comes from the people who are assigned with the very task of interpreting all the data that’s out there and trying to place it into some kind of a coherent package. The fact that he’s not taking full advantage of these briefings in the manner that nearly all of his predecessors have in the years since the President-Elect has been given access to the same intelligence briefings as the President. Indeed, of all the Presidents since World War Two ended, the only incoming President who appears to have also shunned these briefings has been Richard Nixon, whose distrust of the Central Intelligence Agency, and others, often reached the level of paranoia.

The danger in skipping these briefings, of course, is that Trump will enter office with inadequate or incomplete information about what’s going on in the world and that he’ll end up making decisions that are based more on his obviously faulty instincts rather than the intelligence gathered by the professionals. Additionally, and just as concerning, there’s nothing stopping Trump from refusing to take these briefings once he’s President and relying on rumor, innuendo, and his own supposed superior knowledge about foreign policy, which he admitted months ago he got from ‘watching the shows.’ Is that how he intends to run his Presidency? Believe it or not, it sure sounds like it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    I think it’s pretty obvious this means he’s going to farm all that messy foreign-policy stuff out to Pence.

    It’s said Dick Cheney was the most powerful VP in American history, but Pence is about to make him look like a mere bystander.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  2. george says:

    I wonder if this is a sign that he doesn’t really intend on remaining President after the fun of he inauguration takes place. He never seemed to expect to win, and doesn’t seem to have strong political opinions (unless doing what’s best for himself is a political opinion); it could be he thinks its just not worth the hassle.

    Yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking, though I’m not sure Pence is an improvement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. Pch101 says:

    Given the obvious ignorance that Trump displayed during the campaign, including such ridiculous notions as the idea that he knew more about fighting ISIS than the Generals in the Pentagon…

    I would be all in favor of dropping Trump into Mosul…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  4. Gustopher says:

    Perhaps the content of the daily briefings is so shocking and surprising that he refuses to believe them, and simply won’t bother with one again.

    “Lizard people? Do you mean people who keep lizards as pets, or people who are actually lizards?”

    “The latter, Mr. President-Elect.”

    Mr. Trump attempted to remember the different between former and latter, and resorted to counting on his tiny fingers, which didn’t help but was bound to have a fifty-fifty chance of being accurate. Either option seemed implausible. Finally, he spoke. “Do people really do that? How do you cuddle up with a lizard?”

    “No, Mr. President-Elect, the people themselves are lizards. And they are clearing out the humans from the Middle East by getting them to fight among themselves.”

    “And then they will hold us hostage by controlling the oil! They’ll be rich.”

    “Sir, they appear to not be motivated by money at all. They just want warm rocks to sun themselves on.”

    Mr. Trump looked at the agent running the briefing with a mixture of horror and disgust. “Not motivated by money? Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. Get out of here! Go away! I never want to see you again. You’re fired!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  5. DrDaveT says:

    The danger in skipping these briefings, of course, is that Trump will enter office with inadequate or incomplete information about what’s going on in the world and that he’ll end up making decisions that are based more on his obviously faulty instincts rather than the intelligence gathered by the professionals.

    So, you’re saying he really is a Republican after all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    “Briefing, I don’t need no stinkin briefings.” And in other news, it is reported that Trump is being urged by his staff to humiliate Romney and require that he make a public apology to Trump for his comments on the Donald, as a requirement to be named SoS. Oh dear… If I were Romney, I’d be very tempted to tell Trump to take the job and shove it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. JohnMcC says:

    Wonder if he’s catching the Info-Wars podcasts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    He can’t read. He is effectively illiterate. He’s also pretty obviously got attention disorders. Like most adult ADHD sufferers he has learned to avoid revealing his weakness.

    Once the NSA and CIA can figure out how to put their briefings into words of a single syllable with lots of pictures, and carefully avoid any assumption that Trump knows anything about anything at all, the briefings may resume.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  9. Andrew says:

    With his twitter tirades. His inability to be modest and not brag about even the most taboo of his feelings.

    I can not say I am disappointed.

    The man is a walking National Security threat. And seeing as he is as arrogant and self absorbed as he is, and does not read, or read teleprompters. How long before he lets something slip, because he wants the world to hear just how awesome he is?

    The expectation of Trump to transform himself into anything resemble what we all know as “Presidential” is simply setting ourselves up for disappointment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Trump loves Alex Jones. He’s been interviewed on Jones’s show. But you knew that.

    He’s not only ignorant, he regards his ignorance as a virtue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. Barry says:

    @george: “I wonder if this is a sign that he doesn’t really intend on remaining President after the fun of he inauguration takes place. ”

    No. This is like a massive dose of meth for his ego. There’s no way that he pulls the needle out.

    Second, it’s clear that the Trump family will pull many, many billions of sweet, corrupt $$ out of the office. I would not be surprised if the Trump family becomes one of the richest in the country four years from now.

    BTW, this is also why I expect him to start some wars. The only office more ego-bloating than the US Presidency is the war-time Presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  12. dennis says:

    @Barry:

    Barry, I believe you’re right on that point. Because it sounds as far-fetched and ludicrous as Trump winning the presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    Glad that I don’t have children in the military with this fool and the grand kids are too young.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Jim Henley says:

    The key passage is Nunes insisting “This is fine.” Before the election, various Sensible Centrists and Serious Conservatives told us that even if Trump became president it would be okay because American institutions and the GOP leadership would act as restraining influences. Nunes’ apologia is further evidence that the GOP leadership will be enablers rather than stewards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. de stijl says:

    The election of Trump is potentially an Extinction Level Event. And I’m not talking just America, I mean the planet.

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Glad that I don’t have children in the military with this fool and the grand kids are too young.

    Beyond folks who are of military service age, all of the populace is at risk with this utterly unprepared fool at the helm.

    Remember when Palin was thisclose to being in the Big Chair? I miss those days.

    95% of all elected officials in America: city, county, state, or federal – are better suited to holding the Presidency than Trump. If we randomly selected a council member from any incorporated city in America, the chance is extraordinarily likely that he or she would do a better job as President than Trump.

    I literally cannot think of a single person I know who would be a worse choice as POTUS than Trump. Maybe my nephew, but he’s in a halfway house now and I don’t think he’s actively dealing at this moment – I still would trust that kid over Trump. I’d pick Andy Dick over Trump in a heartbeat.

    These are dark days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Franklin says:

    @Mikey: Super, and Pence knows what, exactly?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. An Interested Party says:

    So this is what we have come to…we will have a president who prefers to be ignorant about what is going on in the world…this can’t end well…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Mikey:

    It’s said Dick Cheney was the most powerful VP in American history, but Pence is about to make him look like a mere bystander.

    Cheney was smart and dangerous, Pence? Pence seems almost too light to make the team, like Rick Perry, but without the charisma.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Mikey says:

    @Franklin: @al-Ameda: Of course Pence is nowhere near Cheney in any measure of intellect, knowledge, or experience. But then Trump isn’t close to G. W. Bush in those things, either, so there you are.

    We’re in for a challenging four years as a country, of that I have no doubt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Barry says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “Glad that I don’t have children in the military with this fool and the grand kids are too young.”

    The difference between Dubya and Trump is that Dubya started with a cabinet of competent, experienced adults (many of whom then went crazy). Trump is starting with a cabinet of people who couldn’t even make the grade in Dubya’s cabinet on their best day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. wr says:

    @Franklin: ” Pence knows what, exactly?”

    That gays are icky, women are sluts, and anyone who doesn’t agree with him is going to hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1