Before formally launching his political career, Donald Trump took a keen interest in the presidential daily intelligence briefing. In fact, as regular readers may recall, in 2014, he seemed convinced that Barack Obama wasn’t taking the national-security briefings as seriously as he should.
“Fact – Obama does not read his intelligence briefings,” Trump complained, making up details that were in no way factual. Around the same time, Trump added, “Obama has missed 58% of his intelligence briefings” – which, again, was completely untrue.
All of this seemed quite ironic when, during Trump’s presidential transition process, he skipped nearly all of his intelligence briefings. Asked why, the Republican told Fox News in December 2016, “Well, I get it when I need it…. I don’t have to be told – you know, I’m, like, a smart person.”
Many hoped Trump would adopt a more responsible posture once in office, but NBC News reports today that the president isn’t just skipping the daily intelligence summary prepared for him, he’s also participating in “relatively few in-person briefings from his spy agencies.”
A series of recently published presidential schedules show that he has been in just 17 intelligence briefings over the last 85 days. That’s about the same frequency as two of his predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, according to a former CIA briefer who has written a book on the subject.
But unlike those former presidents, Trump does not regularly read the written intelligence briefing sent over each day to the White House, U.S. officials tell NBC News, and in private he frequently questions the integrity and judgment of the intelligence officials who are giving him secret information.
The NBC News report added that it’s “extremely difficult” to dissuade the Republican president from believing something he shouldn’t, even with a mountain of evidence, once he’s convinced himself that he’s right.
This comes on the heels of a brutal Time magazine report on Trump’s indifference toward U.S. intelligence findings, and the dangers posed by his “willful ignorance.” In some cases, the article noted, American intelligence professionals have been warned not to provide Trump with intelligence assessments that “contradict stances he has taken in public.”
The Washington Post had a related report two months ago, adding that U.S. intelligence analysts “frequently see troubling gaps between the president’s public statements and the facts laid out for him in daily briefings on world events.”
The CIA and other agencies have devoted enormous “time, energy and resources” to ensuring that accurate intelligence is delivered to Trump, an official told the Post, but his imperviousness to such material often renders “all of that a waste.”
So to recap, Trump made a series of bogus claims about Barack Obama blowing off intelligence briefings. Now that he holds the same office, Trump participates in a limited number of briefings, chooses not to read daily intelligence reports, rejects what his own country’s intelligence agencies tell him, and routinely takes competing “information” to the American public.
All of this happens despite the extraordinary lengths U.S. intelligence professionals have gone to accommodate Trump’s unique … how do I put this gently … idiosyncratic approach to information.