Some Trump administration intelligence officials charged with briefing the president say it is often a challenging task.
Ten current and former intelligence officials told The New York Times that President Donald Trump is difficult to brief on national security matters.
They told the newspaper he often veers off on tangents and it takes time for them to get him refocused on the topic at hand. Officials said he has a short attention span and rarely reads intelligence reports. Instead, he relies on friends and conservative media members for information. He will interrupt the person providing the information and typically ignores information that he disagrees with.
Officials said the briefings are so challenging that intelligence agencies hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.
Two former officials said the president’s first briefer Ted Gistaro burned out trying to keep Trump engaged.
Officials told the newspaper that Gistaro did not always know what to expect and would sometimes have to brief an erratic and angry president upset over news reports.
Trump hasn’t hesitated to blame those who brief him, either. In recent weeks, he blamed intelligence agencies for giving him inadequate warnings about the threat of the coronavirus.
Intelligence officials backed Trump saying Beth Sanner, who regularly briefs the president, downplayed the dangers posed by the virus when she first brought it to his attention on Jan. 23.
But Trump received additional warnings from other officials like epidemiologists, scientists, biodefense officials and other national security aides about the virus’s growing threat before he heard from Sanner.
Trump has not mentioned Sanner by name, but singled out a briefer for calling the virus “not so deadly.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine her saying something like ‘not so deadly,’” said Greg Treverton, a former National Intelligence Council chairman who worked with Sanner. “But it is conceivable that is what Trump heard and it wasn’t exactly said.”
Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell said the notion that Trump is difficult in briefings is “flat wrong.”
“When you are there, you see a president questioning the assumptions and using the opportunity to broaden the discussion to include real-world perspectives,” Grenell told the newspaper.
Former officials said he occasionally asks good questions.
“The president is laser-focused on the issues at hand and asks probing questions throughout the briefings — it reminds me of appearing before a well-prepared appellate judge and defending the case,” National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said.
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