Following a Christmas vacation during which he did not get a secret intelligence briefing, President Donald Trump was scheduled to receive one on January 6, 2021—the day he incited a violent assault on the United States Capitol. It did not take place. Then he didn’t receive another for the remainder of his term.
That extraordinary period in which the president did not get a regular secret briefing is documented in the most recent edition of a book issued and frequently updated by the Central Intelligence Agency that outlines how spies inform presidents on national security issues.
The situation in the final days of Trump’s presidency was so unusual that some administration officials were concerned that Trump was losing touch with reality, as he was receiving erroneous advice on domestic issues from Justice Department attorneys and outside counsel who openly advocated rejecting election results.
“There was no certainty that he was getting objective, unbiased information in any other way,” one source stated. “You couldn’t trust that anybody around him was able to get that information to him in that period of time.”
Unlike previous presidents, who would read their daily intelligence report and sometimes be briefed by a CIA official, Trump often refused to read the text, sought “killer” photos, and preferred to be informed in person by his daily briefer.
While previous presidents were keen on having the most up-to-date information on security threats and foreign intelligence, a recently updated CIA book revealed that Trump spent two days a week receiving the most sensitive information coming in from American spies all over the world, in 45-minute sessions on average.
According to the CIA’s “Getting to Know the President” book, published by a famous former inspector general of the agency, John Helgerson, this came to an end in late 2020.
Trump took a vacation break around the holidays, traveling to Mar-a-Lago and telling his briefer “he would see her later,” Helgerson wrote. The president then spent two weeks without receiving that crucial one-on-one briefing, in contrast to his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who was known to receive the daily report even while on vacation in Hawaii.
During that time, Trump and his closest aides worked hard to overturn election results in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by spreading misinformation and sponsoring conspiracy-laden court challenges that ultimately failed.
There was his notorious phone call demanding that Georgia’s top elections official “find 11,780 votes,” not to mention his tyrannical effort to have Wisconsin’s election declared “unconstitutional” by the United States Supreme Court.
When he returned to the nation’s capital, the White House eventually arranged a briefing for him. Trump was allegedly too busy that day, instigating a riot by making a speech and urging on his acolytes to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol building just as Congress was certifying the 2020 election results.
According to the CIA book, “the briefings were to resume on 6 January but none were scheduled after the attack on the Capitol.”
The Thanksgiving break and the two-week period after the insurgency meant that Trump went without briefings for almost his entire last month in office, a hiatus that analysts deemed extraordinary.
“It’s not unusual to miss one here or there. But it’s unusual to go several weeks without a briefing,” said Matthew Kroenig, a former CIA officer who created counter-China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and terrorist networks plans.
“Whether you like him or not, he was the commander in chief. As a nation, we would have been safer if he would have been getting those briefings,” said Kroenig, who is currently the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.
The CIA refused to explain why Trump stopped getting briefings at that period, when contacted by The Daily Beast. Three former intelligence officials said it would have been up to the White House to schedule the briefings, which has been busy in the previous two weeks fending off claims of an attempted coup and preparing for an impeachment struggle.
The CIA also refused to clarify whether Trump had gotten them since leaving office, despite President Joe Biden’s statement in February that his predecessor should no longer get them.
Monday evening, Trump’s post-presidential office did not react to queries.
Helgerson, a former spy who has since retired and been hired to write the book, refused to disclose any specifics about the abrupt stop in briefings to The Daily Beast on Monday, citing tight agency limits.
The new chapter of the CIA book also detailed how Trump himself offered a problem to the nation’s intelligence professionals, particularly at the start of his administration, when he was embroiled in charges of questionable links to Russia and lashed out against the country’s monitoring networks.
“For the Intelligence Community, the Trump transition was far and away the most difficult in its historical experience with briefing new presidents,” the book states. “Rather than shut the IC out, Trump engaged with it, but attacked it publicly.”
In a later section, Obama’s departing director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is quoted as claiming that Trump was “fact-free” and prone to “fly off on tangents; there might be eight or nine minutes of real intelligence in an hour’s discussion.”
Some national security experts have pointed out that, although Trump no longer receives classified information, many of others around him continue to do so. According to Helgerson’s updated version of the book, then-Vice President Mike Pence “was an assiduous, six-day-a-week Reader” who would often join the president in his brief and begin a meaningful debate about current issues. However, towards the end of his administration, Trump had turned against Pence and was well-known for depending on Fox News and Newsmax presenters for a continual feed of unsubstantiated material.
Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA director of staff who also led the White House Situation Room during the Obama administration, emphasized the importance of keeping the president informed during his last weeks in office. He described the month-long period without a briefing as the most concerning feature in the book’s most recent version.
“Given how complicated the world is today, and given the kinds of decisions the president should be involved in in the national security arena, I’d be concerned that the president could find himself behind the curve,” he said.
“Iran could have planned some foolish attack, or you could have intel members of the incoming administration acting against current U.S. foreign policy,” he said, referring to the issues that beset Trump’s transition team in 2016.