the national interest

Dumbed-Down Security Briefings Still Too Difficult for Trump to Read

Donald Trump won’t read his briefing and you can’t make him. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

When Donald Trump was elected president, it quickly became obvious that the traditional national-security briefing a person in his position receives daily would be well beyond his zone of proximal development. The briefings were slimmed down in length, chopped up into easy-to-digest bullet points, and decorated with lots of graphs and pictures. Alas, the Washington Post reports, even the kiddie version of the presidential brief has proven too challenging. Now, Trump gets his briefing verbally.

Trump, the Post reports, “has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues” because reading the brief — which every president has been able to do since its existence began — “is not Trump’s preferred ‘style of learning,’ according to a person with knowledge of the situation.”

Also, Trump does not receive his verbal briefing daily, but instead “about every two to three days on average in recent months, typically around 11 a.m.” That’s when “executive time” ends and Trump has to turn off Fox News to listen to officials for a while, before he gets more screen time later in the day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, while the verbal method comports with Trump’s preferred learning style, he does not show very strong listening skills:

Trump would discuss the news of the day or a tweet he sent about North Korea or the border wall — or anything else on his mind, two people familiar with the briefings said.

On such days, there would only be a few minutes left — and the briefers would have barely broached the topics they came to discuss, one senior U.S. official said.

“He often goes off on tangents during the briefing and you’d have to rein him back in,” one official said.

So even the verbal briefings devolve into rambling stories by the person who is supposed to be receiving the briefing.

The story does conclude on the optimistic note that Chief of Staff John Kelly has made “an effort to exert more discipline” over the process, though it does not contain any conclusions about his level of success.

Dumbed-Down Security Briefings Still Too Difficult for Trump