Former CIA Deputy Director: Trump Would Be a “Hard Brief”

Can Trump handle the truth?

Steve Helber/AP

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


The veteran CIA official who once provided intelligence briefings to presidential candidates—including Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry in 2004—says briefing Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, could be rather difficult.

“It’s an extraordinary year and Trump doesn’t fit any mold at all,” John McLaughlin, the former deputy CIA director who served as acting head of the agency in 2004, tells Mother Jones. “I think he’d be a hard brief.”

To McLaughlin, Trump looks like an inflexible candidate who might not take well to information that contradicts or undercuts his own positions. “As an intelligence briefer, you’d probably be telling him a fair number of things that are at odds with his stated views,” he notes. “And then you would find out how well he absorbs discordant information…Trump’s public statements don’t suggest that he’s someone who easily deals with things that strongly disagree with his view.”

Other intelligence officials have expressed similar concerns since Trump became the all-but-certain GOP standard-bearer this week. “Given that [Trump’s] public persona seems to reflect a lack of understanding or care about global issues, how do you arrange these presentations to learn what are the true depths of his understanding?” former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden told the Washington Post. There’s also the possibility that Trump will blurt out classified information on the campaign trail. McLaughlin says candidates—and any aides they may want to bring into intelligence briefings—aren’t required to obtain security clearance to participate in the briefings. Lengthy and detailed background checks are the norm for government officials granted access to classified material.

The White House referred questions on the intelligence briefing process to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which carries out the briefings. That office has said it won’t provide further details until after the nominating conventions in July. Candidates do not receive intelligence briefings until they are officially nominated.

The White House has ultimate say over what information goes into the briefings, and McLaughlin says President Barack Obama could even decline to offer briefings to the candidates. But he believes that would be unlikely. His hunch is that in the case of Trump, the White House would take extra steps to stress to Trump and his aides the sensitive nature of the information and the need to protect it. “But who knows?” McLaughlin adds. “We don’t know who [Trump] is.”

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate