With the Memorial Weekend holiday, the catastrophic newscycle got disturbed a little bit. I realized on Sunday why I felt a little bit of unease – it was because it had been a few days since some huge story broke around 6 pm. It was good while it lasted, but I’m sure this week is going to be a motherf–ker. Just wait for it. Those sources in the FBI, NSA and CIA have just been waiting to unload. By Thursday, we’re going to have a dozen new catastrophes. In the meantime, the Washington Post did a sad story about how Trump “consumes” his daily intelligence briefings. He consumes intelligence the way children consume cartoons – he has no idea what’s happening, but he likes bright colors and videos of stuff blowing up.
President Trump consumes classified intelligence like he does most everything else in life: ravenously and impatiently, eager to ingest glinting nuggets but often indifferent to subtleties. Most mornings, often at 10:30, sometimes earlier, Trump sits behind the historic Resolute desk and, with a fresh Diet Coke fizzing and papers piled high, receives top-secret updates on the world’s hot spots. The president interrupts his briefers with questions but also with random asides. He asks that the top brass of the intelligence community be present, and he demands brevity.
As they huddle around the desk, Trump likes to pore over visuals — maps, charts, pictures and videos, as well as “killer graphics,” as CIA Director Mike Pompeo phrased it.
Yet there are signs that the president may not be retaining all the intelligence he is presented, fully absorbing its nuance, or respecting the sensitivities of the information and how it was gathered. Earlier this month, for instance, Trump bragged to top Russian diplomats about the quality of the intelligence and revealed highly classified information, related to the fight against the Islamic State, that had been shared by a U.S. partner.
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during their May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the exchange.
And Trump’s reaction to the disclosure that he shared highly classified information with Russian officials was to declare it his “absolute right” to do so and lash out at leakers — making clear that he still sees his own intelligence services as adversaries.
Vice President Pence usually attends, while other administration principals join depending on the topic of the day, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. Senior members of the West Wing staff sometimes float in and out of the Oval Office during the briefings.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, often observes quietly; he receives his own intelligence briefing earlier in the morning, according to two White House officials. Some Democrats are now calling for Kushner’s security clearance to be reviewed after The Washington Post reported Friday that he attempted to set up back-channel communications with the Russian government during the presidential transition. Trump prefers free-flowing conversations over listening to his briefers teach lessons. “It’s a very oral, interactive discussion, as opposed to sitting there and reading from a text or a script,” Pompeo said.
WaPo points out that there is little evidence that Trump is actually absorbing what he hears (not reads) in intelligence briefings. He gets briefed on how Russia meddled in the election, but he still claims that “it could have been China” who did the meddling. As for Jared Kushner receiving his own intelligence briefing ahead of the president… that would seem normal to me if A) Jared was the chief of staff and B) Jared was someone other than Trump’s prissy son-in-law and the same guy who was trying to set up a “back channel” communication to Russia precisely so that his communications with Russia could not be monitored by American intelligence.
I find it disturbing that Kushner receives his own intelligence briefing and then he doesn’t bother saying anything in the president’s briefing. I also find it disturbing that Kushner still has a high-level security clearance. There’s a movement afoot to get Kushner’s security clearance yanked, and perhaps to get Kushner to take a leave of absence at the WH. That’s not going to happen. Emperor Bigly told the NYT yesterday that he has “total confidence” in Precious Jared and: “Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.” Lock him up. Lock them all up.
Photos courtesy of WENN.