President Donald Trump, who doesn’t regularly read the daily intelligence summary prepared for him, is also participating in relatively few in-person briefings from his spy agencies, according to intelligence officials and a review of his schedules.
A series of recently published presidential schedules show that he has been in just 17 intelligence briefings over the last 85 days. That’s about the same frequency as two of his predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, according to a former CIA briefer who has written a book on the subject. But unlike those former presidents, Trump does not regularly read the written intelligence briefing sent over each day to the White House, U.S. officials tell NBC News, and in private he frequently questions the integrity and judgment of the intelligence officials who are giving him secret information.
Trump has also done that publicly. Last week, after intelligence officials publicly contradicted him, Trump tweeted that his top spies should “go back to school,” and in an interview with CBS News Sunday, he acknowledged that he frequently disagreed with his intelligence advisers.
When Trump believes something to be true, U.S. officials tell NBC News, it’s extremely difficult for them to dissuade him, even if they have a mountain of evidence he is wrong. And when he doubts something they are telling him, he often requires iron-clad proof of a type that is rarely available from intelligence collection.
“This is the first president that the intelligence community has had to deal with whose instinctive departure point is not the truth,” David Priess, a former CIA briefer, said on MSNBC. “He goes from his belief first.”
Trump has been taking in-person briefings about as often as Obama and Clinton, according to Priess’s research. Obama, in fact, was criticized in conservative media for failing to take a daily in-person briefing.
But Obama started each day in the White House with a meeting of key national security advisers at which intelligence was discussed. And Obama read the written Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB, a newsletter of secret information prepared for him by the CIA and other agencies.
During some periods of his presidency, former advisers say, Obama received an in-person intelligence briefing every day he was in the White House. At other times it was less frequent.
“We have no evidence that Donald Trump is reading his president’s daily brief on the days when he’s not getting briefings,” Priess said, “whereas President’s Clinton and Obama, and all previous presidents, spent a lot of time either reading the presidents daily briefing” or discussing it.”