Under Trump, Whither The Daily Intelligence Briefing?

Dec 12, 2016
Originally published on December 13, 2016 6:47 am
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For more than 50 years, it's been a tradition at the White House - a concise, daily intelligence briefing given to the president. It's also been a tradition for president-elect to receive the same briefing. Donald Trump, however, has had only a handful of these sessions. He's been delegating them so far to his vice president-elect. NPR's Don Gonyea explains.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: First some background on what exactly the Presidential Daily Brief is.

DAVID PRIESS: The President's Daily Brief is the most tightly controlled daily document in the world.

GONYEA: That's former intelligence official David Priess, who has written a book about the so-called PDB after being a briefer in the George W. Bush White House. He says the tradition started with John F. Kennedy.

PRIESS: So they produced a daily book, then called the President's Intelligence Checklist, which was very short, very punchy, small enough that it could be folded and put into his suit pocket. And he would go back to it later in the day.

GONYEA: It officially got the name President's Daily Brief under President Johnson. During some administrations, as few as two or three people were given access to it. Most typically the number will be up to a dozen or more, but it is still a very exclusive group.

U.S. intelligence veteran Barry Pavel, who served the past two administrations, says different presidents have different preferences when it comes to the briefing. Some like it in written form - that's President Obama's way - while George W. Bush wanted it in person.

BARRY PAVEL: And some consider it really, you know, a critical start to their day, where they have this exchange on these critical issues. And it gets them thinking about not just what's going to happen that day but that month, that year.

GONYEA: Which brings us to President-elect Trump. He's had very few of the daily intelligence briefings. He was asked about that yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

CHRIS WALLACE: You are getting the Presidential Daily Brief...

DONALD TRUMP: Yes.

WALLACE: ...Only once a week.

TRUMP: Well, I get it when I need it.

WALLACE: But is it - is there some skepticism?

TRUMP: I get it when I - first of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings.

GONYEA: But Trump cited the repetitive nature of the briefings, saying he can be updated when things change. Former intelligence analyst Pavel says it's up to the intelligence agencies and Trump's advisers to figure out a way to make these briefings work for him.

PAVEL: Everyone has a different style, and so that's his current posture. I would be interested in seeing how that posture evolves over time because I think it's hard once you're in the chair and in the Oval Office. I think I would expect that tempo to increase significantly.

GONYEA: Pavel says the briefing's style or even the briefers themselves may need to change. But he stresses that the sessions are important starting with the transition that's already well underway. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.