Former spy chief said Trump was 'fact-free' and would 'fly off on tangents' during intel briefings, book says

Advertisement
Former spy chief said Trump was 'fact-free' and would 'fly off on tangents' during intel briefings, book says
Former President Donald Trump.Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Trump was "fact-free" and would often "fly off on tangents" during intel briefings, a new book says.
  • The former DNI said Trump got distracted so often that an hour of discussion amounted to "eight or nine minutes of real intelligence."

As president-elect, Donald Trump was "fact-free" and would often "fly off on tangents" during intelligence briefings, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a book written by a former CIA officer and recently published by the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence.

John Helgerson, the author of the book and the CIA inspector general from 2002 until he retired in 2009, writes that for the intelligence community, "the Trump transition was far and away the most difficult in its historical experience with briefing new presidents."

Helgerson, whose book "Getting to Know the President" was first published in 1996 and has since been updated to include information on later presidents, said the only possible comparison could be Richard Nixon, who distrusted the intelligence community. But "rather than shut the IC out, Trump engaged with it, but attacked it publicly," he added, referring to the intelligence community.

Advertisement

Helgerson writes in his book that James Clapper, who was the director of national intelligence during the transition period, felt that behind the scenes, Trump could be "courteous, affable, and complimentary of the IC." The book says that during one of his early briefings, Trump said that "the nasty things" he was saying in public about the intelligence community did not apply to the briefers.

Trump received presidential briefings about twice a week and is said to have received fewer briefings than other new presidents, who were often briefed daily. But Trump devoted more time to his briefings — about 40 to 60 minutes.

That said, Trump was widely known to veer off course and get distracted during his briefings. In the early days of his presidency, he told officials that he wanted briefings to be shorter and full of "killer graphics," The Washington Post previously reported.

Advertisement

Trump's lack of attentiveness prompted briefers to overhaul their playbook and instead structure his daily briefs to include more graphics, charts, and tables, The New York Times previously reported. National security officials also sprinkled Trump's own name into his briefings as part of their effort to get him to pay more attention, Reuters reported. At one point, they began simplifying his briefings to focus on a single key point to get through to him, "A Warning," a book by the former Trump administration official Miles Taylor, says.

"He doesn't really read anything," one of Trump's former briefers said, according to Helgerson's book. Clapper apparently agreed, saying, "Trump doesn't read much."

"Trump's style," Helgerson writes, "was to listen to the key points, discuss them with some care, then lead the discussion to related issues and others further afield."

Advertisement

Clapper said that during the intelligence briefings, Trump had a tendency to "fly off on tangents" in such a way that "there might be eight or nine minutes of real intelligence in an hour's discussion," the book says.

There were other challenges as well for the officials tasked with putting together the presidential briefings, the book says. "The irreconcilable difference, in Clapper's view, was that the IC worked with evidence," Helgerson writes, adding that Trump "was 'fact-free' — evidence doesn't cut it with him."

Helgerson's book says that Trump "digested the key points offered by the briefers, asked questions, engaged in discussion, made his own priority interests known, and used the information as a basis for discussions with his policy advisers."

Advertisement

"The system worked, but it struggled," Helgerson writes.

One former briefer, Beth Sanner, said that while Trump did not read the presidential daily briefings, he would bring other things to the conversations.

Helgerson, citing an interview Sanner did with the Center for the Study of Intelligence earlier this year, writes that while intelligence briefings continued even after the 2020 presidential election, no additional briefings were scheduled after the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.

Advertisement

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

{{}}