The CIA has released a new study that strongly suggests Donald Trump failed to fulfill one of his primary responsibilities as president: staying fully informed on potential threats to the country while obsessing over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
This indictment comes from the Center for the Study of Intelligence, which publishes intelligence-related scholarly papers and histories. Many are made public. The CSI also produces work that is relevant to current intelligence issues, such as the question of what happens when a president is unconcerned about intelligence.
The CSI recently updated “Getting to Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates and Presidents-Elect, 1952-2016.” This edition is distinguished by the inclusion of a chapter on the 45th President titled “Donald J. Trump—A Unique Challenge.”
The book is written by John Helgerson, a former CIA intelligence officer who served as the agency’s inspector general during George W. Bush’s presidency. During that time, he investigated the CIA’s use of torture and wrote a classified report (released years later) criticizing the agency’s interrogation practices and noting that the CIA may have violated international law. And now, in a gentle manner, Helgerson is warning the public about a man who once served in the White House and may try to reclaim the Oval Office.
Reading through the report, it is clear that Helgerson goes out of his way to be fair to Trump. He observes that during some intelligence briefings, Trump—as a presidential candidate, president-elect, and president—listened intently and was generally respectful of the briefers sent by the intelligence community. But, in the end, Trump did not pay close attention to intelligence. This isn’t breaking news. After all, Trump has previously stated that he is his own best foreign policy adviser “because I have a very good brain.”
Helgerson notes in the report that Trump, “by his own account, did not often read.”
Trump, according to Helgerson, “did not read frequently.” And that included the President’s Daily Brief, a report prepared each day for the president by the intelligence community that summarizes critical national security issues. The PDB is delivered to some presidents each day, along with a briefing from an intelligence officer. Trump requested briefings only about twice a week. During the presidential transition, it was lower.
Ted Gistaro, a career CIA analyst who served as Trump’s primary briefer during the 2016 campaign, transition, and first years in office, told Helgerson that Trump did not pay much attention to the PDB: “He touched it. He doesn’t really read anything.” “Trump’s style was to listen to the key points, discuss them with some care, then lead the discussion to related issues and others further afield,” Helgerson writes.
” That sounds like a nice way of saying Trump couldn’t focus on the most important matters.” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence during the Trump transition, is quoted stating in the book. He added that Trump was prone to “fly off on tangents; there might be eight or nine minutes of real intelligence in an hour’s discussion.”
He added, Trump “was ‘fact-free’—the evidence doesn’t cut it with him.” The most effective way to reach Trump was to show him maps, graphics, and satellite imagery that he found interesting.
Trump and his supporters will dismiss any negative information emanating from the so-called Deep State. However, Helgerson’s report is a scathing indictment based on firsthand accounts.
It is yet another example of Trump prioritizing his own interests over those of the country. And, with Trump considering a presidential run in 2024, this chapter fulfills a fundamental intelligence function: it provides a serious threat assessment.