I’m not sure how many ways are left to say that Donald Trump is an idiot man-child, but by God we’ll be using every one of them before we finally wrap him up in a nice warm jacket and send him on his way. We have learned from leaks that he prefers intelligence briefings with pretty pictures, not words, and that he has an attention span so short as to require acrobatics from his briefers—for example, peppering his own name through an intelligence briefing so that he keeps reading—in order to keep him from wandering off on tangents.
And it’s still not working.
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.
As an aside, this sounds very suspiciously like how the papers began to gingerly suggest that President Ronald Reagan was perhaps not fully with us, late in his term. As a not-aside, these observations are not exactly state secrets. The last one in particular has been on full public display this month, thanks to Trump’s offering up of code-word Israeli intelligence to Russian visitors for no fathomable legitimate reason, and Trump’s penchant for egregious lies has the whole world wondering if he does it on purpose or if the idiot man-child simply cannot remember basic facts about what he’s been told and what he himself has done. But the sourcing of this new Washington Post story cautiously tap-dancing around the sitting president’s possible incapacities should raise a few alarms.
This portrait of Trump as a consumer of the nation’s secrets is based on interviews with several senior administration officials who regularly attend his briefings. Some of the interviews were conducted in early May, before the president’s meeting with the Russians.
Translation: Several senior intelligence officials who regularly attend Trump’s briefings are concerned enough about the abilities of the idiot man-child to chat, anonymously, to the Washington Post. But none of them are courageous to put their names anywhere near the rather alarming premise the Post is painting. Assuming the Post’s writers aren’t simply making these intelligence concerns up, we can presume the deep background conversations on this one were humdingers.
There are some other tidbits in there. Trump wants his political appointees to attend every daily intelligence briefing, a disruptive and unusual practice probably based on Trump’s notorious distrust of the intelligence community and/or his need for not just information, but praise. Senior staff “sometimes float in and out” of the classified briefings. And Biff the Wonder Boy is “often” there for his second daily dose of the nation’s top secrets.
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.
We don’t know why Kushner sought to establish a backchannel line to the Putin government that American intelligence services would not be privy to, but he’s certainly been doing his level best to stuff his brain with secrets that would fetch a tidy sum if he needed to raise some quick cash. Thank goodness he, his father-in-law, and all those curious folks they hired on have been lifelong patriots who have only this nation’s best interests at heart.
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.
Can Trump read? Meaning, can he retain information he has read, if it is not explained to him verbally by someone sitting at his side? During his teleprompter-based speeches he frequently makes asides about the phrases he has just read off, bleating out “that is so true” or one of his other trademark ad-libs, as if he has been momentarily surprised by the impressive thing the teleprompter thought to tell him. Presidents generally are neither surprised nor momentarily impressed by their own speeches. They generally have, you know, read them in advance. Obama at no point needed Sasha or Malia to attend daily intelligence briefings in order to help sound out the difficult parts. It would have been, up until we elected an idiot man-child, unthinkable.
Most of the rest of the Post‘s piece consists of Pompeo and Coats praising the man who can immediately fire them in ways that are utterly unremarkable. More than any other president in the modern era, Trump is known for surrounding himself with yes-men and growing bitterly angry at anyone that deviates from the required praise. No matter what Trump has done so far, it’s not been enough for anyone in the White House to throw up their hands and give up. In the future, when they’re printing out fresh resumes and making inquiries of all the usual offices and networks, let’s make sure we remember that.