Donald Trump and his staff have made clear their disdain for the intelligence community. And a review of the first week of Trump's daily schedule raises the important question of whether he has received, read, or been briefed in person on even a single Presidential Daily Briefing.
During his transition, then-President-elect Donald Trump waged an escalating campaign to discredit the intelligence community that is currently investigating allegations of collusion between his associates and the Russian government that helped get him elected. And he had also skipped or turned down several intelligence briefings during that time.
Now that he has taken office, it appears that Trump may even be eschewing the normal Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) process, in favor of God-knows-what.
Trump White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has repeatedly and derisively noted that the “Presidential Daily Briefing is a product,” which Trump, at best, “supplements” with intelligence from his own undisclosed sources.
But in actuality, the PDB is a crucial, top-secret document, which became well-known following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that is prepared every day by the Director of National Intelligence, and combines intelligence collected from all U.S. intelligence agencies. President Obama read and received the PDB every day of his presidency, and was briefed in-person several times a week. Those briefings were noted on the President’s daily press schedule this way:
10:00AM THE PRESIDENT receives the Presidential Daily Briefing
However, during Trump’s first week in office, there have been notable shifts in that language. From Monday’s schedule:
11:00AM THE PRESIDENT participates in the President’s Daily Briefing
Note the slight re-branding of the PDB from “Presidential Daily Briefing” to “President’s Daily Briefing,” and from “receives” to “participates in.” These small but significant changes raise a number of questions: Who conducted the briefing? What was Trump’s “participation?” Did he receive the actual PDB, or read it?
The next time this was noted on Trump’s schedule, for Thursday morning, the language was even more vague:
9:00AM THE PRESIDENT receives his daily briefing
Ordinarily, this could be seen as a trivial difference in language, but given Trump’s documented desire to form his own intelligence apparatus and willingness to accept intel from dubious sources like his own conspiracy-minded National Security Advisor, the question must be asked: Is President Trump even looking at the “product” that the current, established intelligence community is providing for him each day? Given Trump’s history, there is no reason to think he has been, though given his temperament, there is a temptation to feel comforted by that.
But he is the president now, and so he needs to have — and should want to have — the best available information to him at all times.
It is possible that the shifting language carries some other intent or meaning, or that it is merely a function of a novice press shop that does not know how to operate the controls — as evidenced by the fact that they have not put out a single transcript for a speech or press briefing this week.
But even in a week rife with many other distractions, these questions need to be asked and resolved. And while we are at it, this might also be a good time to check in on Trump’s secret plan to defeat ISIS, which has still not materialized since he took the oath of office.