CIA found Trump was hardest president to brief – including Nixon – according to new book

One-term Republican apparently rarely read his presidential briefings, the book claims

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 29 November 2021 18:44
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Former President Donald Trump's New Picture Book

Donald Trump was already the richest man ever elected president, and now he has a slightly less gleaming distinction to add to his resume: he was “far and away the most difficult” commander-in-chief to brief on intelligence matters, according to a publication from the CIA.

The only president comparable in recent history was Richard Nixon.

"Trump was like Nixon, suspicious and insecure about the intelligence process, but unlike Nixon in the way he reacted," writes John L Helgerson, a former intelligence officer, in the fourth edition of Getting to Know the President, a publication discussing how the intelligence community works with various administrations. "Rather than shut the IC [intelligence community] out, Trump engaged with it, but attacked it publicly.”

Mr Trump frequently attacked top officials at agencies like the CIA and the FBI, as intelligence officials probed links between his presidential campaign and Russian election interference — an effort the president frequently blasted as a “rigged witch hunt.”

In addition to the overt criticisms, the president also wasn’t much of a reader, and didn’t come to the White House with any public policy, military or intelligence background.

“Trump had traveled abroad but, by his own account, did not often read,” the book, which the CIA has noted only reflects the views of its author, says. It also quotes officials saying Trump “doesn’t really read anything” and “doesn’t read much; he likes bullets.”

After their surprise victory in the 2016 election, the Trump team fired officially designated transition staff and tossed out copious preparation materials that had been prepared for them by the departing Obama administration.

In fact, according to Mr Helgerson, the Trump administration “was not fully prepared to launch transition operations, apparently having not expected to win the election.”

The Independent has reached out to the former president for comment.

The greatest point of conflict, however, wasn’t the usual friction between old and new administration, according to the book.

“The most problematic aspect of the 2016 transition for the Intelligence Community — one that carried over into the Trump presidency — was the emergence of the Trump team’s contacts with Russian officials as a domestic political issue in the United States,” the publication states.

During the campaign season, Mr Trump took a number of irregular stances, including regularly disparaging the intelligence community, and even publicly called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton. (He later claimed he was joking.)

Once in office, Mr Trump also railed against current and former officials, at one point stripping former CIA director and occasional critic John Brennan of his security clearance. The decision inspired 13 former senior intelligence officials, including 12 former CIA directors, to sign a letter calling the move "inappropriate" and "deeply regrettable,” as recent top officials typically retain a security clearance in case their successors ask for their input or advice.

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