2020-05-21 16:42:40 UTC
*CIA briefers have spent years honing how to try to deliver information to Trump
*Hired outside consultants for ideas on how to brief him
*The president rarely if ever reads intelligence reports
*Oral briefer tries to reference economic development projects and dictators
*The president often veers off on tangents and brings up tips from golfer Gary
Player and others, the NY Times reports
*Focus comes amid questions about what Trump was told about coronavirus that
could have inspired an earlier response
*Trump said on Jan. 23 he 'was told that there could be a virus coming in but it
was of no real import'
*U.S. coronavirus deaths have topped 90,000
Senior intelligence officials carefully tailor the president's daily briefing on
the nation's secrets by bringing up information on autocrats and economic
development to spark his attention, while dancing around freighted topics like
Russian election interference, according to a new report.
Donald Trump continues to 'rarely if ever' read intelligence reports according
to the New York Times.
The story describes myriad ways the intelligence community tries to convey
critical information to a president who comes through as lacking in attention
and unable to remain on task.
This extends to the the President's Daily Brief, the compendium of intelligence
information that includes that nation's best secrets.
'He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports,'
according to the report, based on interviews with 10 current and former
The paper examined the intelligence briefing process in the wake of the
coronavirus outbreak that has led to the death of more than 90,000 Americans.
The focus comes amid efforts to understand what Trump was told about the virus
that could have inspired an earlier response or prepared the nation earlier.
The pushback from the intelligence community comes after Trump described his
first briefing on the virus, on January 23, as inadequate and downplaying the
threat posed by the virus. Trump said he was told 'it was not a big deal.'
'On Jan. 23, I was told that there could be a virus coming in but it was of no
real import,' Trump told Fox News in his interview staged inside the Lincoln
'In other words, it wasn't, "Oh, we've got to do something, we've got to do
something." It was a brief conversation and it was only on Jan. 23. Shortly
thereafter, I closed the country to China. We had 23 people in the room and I
was the only one in the room who wanted to close it down,' Trump said.
He was referencing the decision to cut off travel to the U.S from China a step
taken a week after the January 23 briefing. It affected Chinese nationals, but
not U.S. citizens, traveling from China.
The report describes Trump as frequently veering off task and bringing up
information he gathers from his own network of friends and contacts.
It mentions retired golf pro Gary Player, casino magnate Steve Wynn, and
Mar-a-Lago member and Newsmax chief Chris Ruddy.
Briefers sometimes to bring up dictators like Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to
'draw in' the president on difficult topics. The intelligence officer who briefs
him, Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner, uses this and other
topics to try to get information to Trump and avoid sending him off in the wrong
To avoid setting Trump off on the threat of Russian election interference
Trump regularly rails against the 'Russia hoax' she cloaks information by
bringing up broader election threats from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran,
according to the report.
The deadly coronavirus that is ripping through the country and tanking the
economy is the backdrop for the account.
DNI spokeswoman Susan Miller told the paper earlier this month Trump was first
briefed on the virus January 23, in a briefing that downplayed the threat. Trump
was 'told that the good news was the virus did not appear that deadly,' she
The DNI's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the
Acting DNI Ric Grenell, who Trump strongly praised at a cabinet meeting this
week, said it was 'flat wrong' that the president was a difficult person to
brief and didn't dispute the idea of briefings running on an unanticipated
course. 'When you are there, you see a president questioning the assumptions and
using the opportunity to broaden the discussion to include real-world
perspectives,' he told the paper.
Trump's national security advisor Robert O'Brien was even more laudatory. '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,' he said.
Officials said Trump's first briefer, Ted Gistaro, burned out and that Trump
would turn angry over bad news reports.