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Trump reportedly doesn’t read intelligence reports, only uses visuals

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  • President Donald Trump’s intelligence briefings have posed an enormous challenge, due to his inattentiveness or unwillingness to receive information, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
  • Trump even blamed a January 23 briefing for not adequately warning him of the threat the novel coronavirus posed — even though he received dozens of intelligence briefings on the matter, as well as warnings from scientists and other national security officials.
  • Trump reportedly doesn’t read the written intelligence reports he is given, though he does look at visuals such as graphs, charts, tables, and satellite images.
  • During oral briefings, Trump reportedly veers off-topic, expresses skepticism, pivots to gossip he heard from his friends, or even stops listening if he is told he is incorrect.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump often struggles to focus during his intelligence briefings and frequently ignores information he disagrees with, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing 10 current and former intelligence officials familiar with the briefings.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, The Times reported. For instance, Trump has blamed a January 23 intelligence briefing for not adequately warning him of the threat the virus posed, even though he was also warned by a bevy of other sources, including epidemiologists, national security officials, biodefense officials, and his own health secretary.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that Trump was warned about the coronavirus threat in more than a dozen intelligence briefings throughout January and February, which were written in the President’s Daily Brief, a classified report Trump is given each morning.

But officials told The Times that Trump does not read the written intelligence reports he is given, though he does look at visuals such as graphs, charts, tables, and satellite images. Instead, Trump reportedly prefers to receive information from conservative media and friends.

Back in 2017, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Washington Post that the president liked “killer graphics” in his intelligence briefings. Trump told Axios before his inauguration that he preferred short briefings. “I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” he said in January 2017. “I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”

Oral intelligence briefings also frequently go awry, The Times reported, as Trump frequently veers off-topic, expresses skepticism, pivots to gossip he heard from his friends, or even stops listening if he is told he is incorrect.

The briefings have posed such difficulty that intelligence agencies have hired consultants to examine how to better brief Trump, according to The Times.

Some White House officials dispute the characterizations and said Trump asks good questions

Trump Dorian briefing 2

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, receives a briefing update on Hurricane Dorian as it approaches the U.S. mainland Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House.

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead


A number of White House officials disputed The Times’ characterization of the briefings, including the current acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, who said it was “flat wrong” to suggest Trump was difficult in intelligence briefings.

“When you are there, you see a president questioning the assumptions and using the opportunity to broaden the discussion to include real-world perspectives,” Grenell told The Times.

National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien also rejected the notion that Trump does not pay attention to his briefings.

“The president is laser-focused on the issues at hand and asks probing questions throughout the briefings — it reminds me of appearing before a well-prepared appellate judge and defending the case,” he told the newspaper.

The White House did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

A number of former intelligence officials told The Times they disagreed with the appellate judge comparison, but said it’s true that Trump sometimes asks good questions.

But despite receiving numerous warnings in both written and oral intelligence briefings, Trump downplayed the coronavirus threat throughout January, February, and even the early weeks of March.

“We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it,” Trump said of the coronavirus on March 10. “It will go away.  Just stay calm. It will go away.”

As of May 21, more than 93,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the US.

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