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Image: House Judiciary Committee Meets For Markup On Articles Of Impeachment
Judiciary Committee member John Ratcliffe, R-Tx., puts his hands to his face as the hearing considering articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump entered the 13th hour at the Longworth House Office Building on Dec. 12, 2019.Jonathan Newton / Pool via Getty Images

In intelligence briefings, Trump knows what he wants to hear

Trump's approach to intelligence is a bit like his media consumption: he seeks out those who'll tell him what he wants to hear.


It's been an awkward fall season for Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former congressman wholly unqualified for his current post. Over the course of about a month, the Texas Republican ignored his own intelligence community while disclosing politically provocative information, and then apparently made stuff up about Iran during a pre-election press conference.

And yet, according to the New York Times, Donald Trump is no longer receiving intelligence briefings from career analysts, preferring instead to rely on Ratcliffe.

Mr. Trump has not had a briefing led by his designated briefer, the veteran intelligence officer Beth Sanner, in more than a month, people familiar with the matter said. The last formal intelligence briefing led by Ms. Sanner was scheduled for Oct. 2, though administration officials said it was canceled after the president disclosed early that morning that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Instead, Mr. Trump has relied on Mr. Ratcliffe to brief him two or three times a week.

It's a bit like Trump's media consumption: he could rely on independent news organizations for accurate information, but he prefers outlets that tell him what he wants to hear. Similarly, the president could receive intelligence briefings from career officials, but he prefers political allies who are more inclined to deliver more Trump-esque information.

In this case, Ratcliffe almost certainly lacks the necessary expertise to deliver proper intelligence briefings to the president, but there's reason to believe it doesn't much matter -- because Trump isn't listening anyway.

Writing for the New York Times late last week, investigative journalist Ron Suskind shared some fresh insights after speaking with dozens of Trump administration officials, many of whom came to realize that the incumbent president is "all but un-briefable."

[Trump] couldn't seem to take in complex information about policy choices and consequences in the ways presidents usually do in Oval Office meetings. What they saw instead was the guy from the first debate. He'd switch subjects, go on crazy tangents, abuse and humiliate people, cut them off midsentence. Officials I interviewed described this scenario again and again.

It's a problem that the president is no longer hearing from career intelligence professionals, but I can't help but wonder how many in the intelligence community are relieved to be relieved of the burden of being ignored by the easily distracted amateur in the Oval Office.