Donald Trump was ‘fact free’ during intelligence briefings and prone to ‘fly off on tangents,’ according to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Clapper, who served under Barack Obama and briefly under Trump during the transition, made the claims in a new CIA-sanctioned history, Getting to Know the President, written by retired spy John L. Helgerson.
Clapper noted that he found the president ‘could be courteous, affable and complimentary of the IC [intelligence community]’ but claims he was loose on substance.
Helgerson writes: ‘Clapper recalled, Trump was prone to “fly off on tangents; there might be eight or nine minutes of real intelligence in an hour’s discussion.”
‘The irreconcilable difference, in Clapper’s view, was that the IC worked with evidence. Trump “was fact-free — evidence doesn’t cut it with him.”‘
Since leaving office, Clapper has accused Trump of ‘ignorance or disrespect’ in firing FBI Director James Comey, of being a ‘Russian asset’, and remarked it was ‘pretty damn scary’ that the 45th President had access to nuclear codes.
Clapper says Trump (pictured outside the White House in August 2019) was loose on facts during the briefings he attended with the president
Clapper was appointed by Obama in 2010 and stepped down as National Intelligence chief in January 2017 after Trump took power (pictured at the annual Erie County Bar Association Law Day luncheon at the Bayfront Convention Center in Erie, Pa., on Wednesday, May 9, 2018)
Clapper worked closely with President-elect Trump during the transition, when he was given the same President’s Daily Brief as Obama received in the White House.
Trump received 14 briefings in total during the 10-week transition and because of his hectic schedule some were given in the Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan.
During the holiday period, Trump received three briefings at his Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida, which he dubbed the ‘Southern White House’ or the ‘Winter White House.’
Ted Gistaro, a career CIA analyst who frequently briefed Trump, said Trump wasn’t a big reader, and would prefer to talk about the intelligence in broad strokes.
‘He touched it [the briefing dossier]. He doesn’t really read anything,’ Gistaro told Helgerson.
Clapper agreed, saying: ‘Trump doesn’t read much; he likes bullets.’
Trump preferred to listen to key points, ‘discuss them with some care, then lead the discussion to related issues and others further afield. This turned out to be the general model for PDB sessions,’ the book says.
The issue of Russian election interference was highly-publicized during the transition period and of such importance to Obama that he directed the IC to find the facts of the matter and present him with their findings before he left office.
Clapper, who served under Barack Obama and resigned in 2016, made the claims in a new CIA-sanctioned book, Getting to Know the President, which chronicles the relationships between US presidents and the intelligence community (IC) since 1952
Clapper appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to address cyber security threats and revealed some of the findings that would later be included in the report: that Russia had hacked the DNC’s computers and the Kremlin’s top brass had ordered the election interference.
The Russians used the stolen emails, fake news on social media and propaganda distributed through state-controlled media to influence voting.
Obama on December 29 expelled 25 Russian diplomats from the US as a result.
On January 6, 2017, Clapper along with NSA Director Mike Rogers, Comey, CIA Director John Brennan and Gistaro met with Trump to discuss their findings on election interference.
In the days proceeding, Trump had demanded to know the details from Gistaro and was surprised that senior intelligence chiefs had not yet been sent to brief him on the evidence.
His frustration was vented in tweets which claimed that the IC perhaps needed more time ‘because they did not know what they were talking about,’ Helgerson writes.
‘Despite the president-elect’s frustration in the days leading up to it, the IC principals’ meeting with Trump lasted an hour and a half and went well,’ the book says.
‘According to Clapper, the evidence that was presented at the meeting—to the effect that Russia had interfered in the election and that very senior Russian officials were involved—was so solid that no one on the Trump team disputed the findings or conclusions of the report.
‘Gistaro recalled that Trump listened respectfully, especially while Rogers described how NSA had identified and confirmed the particulars of Russia’s actions.’
However, the president-elect was ‘less impressed with information that came from human sources, believing that such intelligence assets were “sleazeballs” and by definition less reliable.’
Following the meeting, Trump publicly accepted Russian interference but told the American people that this had ‘absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.’
But as Clapper told Trump in the briefing, ‘the IC could not and would not make a determination as to the impact of Russia’s actions.’
At the end of the meeting Trump was told about the existence of the Steele dossier by James Comey, and how it contained allegations of misconduct, conspiracy, and cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The document was prepared for Hillary Clinton’s campaign by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 spy working for a private firm.
This dossier soon dragged the IC into its second Russia issue with Trump when it was leaked to the press days later.
‘Gistaro recalled that when they met for their next PDB briefing session, Trump “vented for 10 minutes about how we [the IC] were out to destroy him,”‘ Helgerson writes.
In his first postelection press conference, Trump called the dossier ‘false and fake.’
Trump also tweeted: ‘Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?’
Clapper called Trump right after the press conference to tell him that ‘the offending document was not a product of US Intelligence and that he did not think the leak came from the IC.’
Former FBI Director James Comey (left) and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right)
Helgerson writes: ‘Clapper said he and Trump agreed that leaks were extremely corrosive and damaging to national security and that he had “assured him that the IC stands ready to serve his Administration and the American people.”
‘For his part, Trump offered a quite different account of their meeting, tweeting the next morning, “James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated.”‘
Trump went on to make further incendiary claims about the IC which caused greater greater rifts in relations with top staff, not least Brennan who publicly rebuked him for making comparisons of his staff to the Nazis.
The president would fire Comey in May, 2017, in perhaps the most dramatic deterioration of relations with the IC.
Helgerson writes that Trump was similar to Richard Nixon in that he was ‘suspicious and insecure about the intelligence process.’
However, unlike Nixon Trump did not shut the IC out, he ‘attacked it publicly.’
He concludes that: ‘The system worked, but it struggled.’