Donald Trump said Wednesday that he could tell from the “body language” of intelligence officials who gave him two separate briefings on U.S. national security in recent weeks that they were “not happy” with what he described as the failure of President Obama and others in the administration to “follow what they were recommending.”
Trump said he “didn’t learn anything” from the briefers that would change his views on how to defeat the Islamic State. He said earlier this week that he would task senior military officials with giving him a plan to deal with the militants within 30 days after he takes office.
“What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly — when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason — what our experts said to do,” the Republican presidential nominee said during an NBC forum on national security.
“And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance, and I could tell, I have pretty good with the body language, I could tell, they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending,” he said.
Timothy Barrett, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which has briefed both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.
Both candidates became eligible for the classified briefings after they were formally nominated at this summer’s political conventions.
Amid reports that some intelligence officials had deep reservations about sharing sensitive information with Trump, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said in late July that “it is not up to the administration and not up to me personally to decide on the suitability of presidential candidates. The American electorate is deciding on the suitability of the next commander in chief.”
Some CIA officials have chafed under the Obama administration’s reluctance to expand its covert assistance to Syrian opposition fighters. But a number of U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to express opinions, have voiced concern over several of Trump’s positions, including his advocacy of using banned torture methods against terrorism suspects and his expression of hope that Russian intelligence had hacked Clinton’s email account when she was secretary of state and would make the results public.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden said last week that he fears a “civil military crisis” if Trump is elected president, and former deputy director Mike Morell has endorsed Clinton.
Classified briefings are traditionally offered to the major-party nominees, although Clapper described them as “fairly general” overviews of issues, including intelligence assessments. More substantive briefings are given to the president-elect after the election.
Based on public intelligence assessments offered to Congress, the preliminary candidate briefings are likely to include broad overviews on the Islamic State and other terrorist threats, Russia, China and other leading foreign policy concerns. Intelligence briefers generally do not offer recommendations to the commander in chief, but concentrate on available options and possible outcomes.
Trump received his first briefing in mid-August and a second one last week.
Asked Wednesday evening by NBC’s Matt Lauer whether anything he had heard in the briefings shocked or alarmed him, Trump replied, “Yes, very much so.”
Saying he had “great respect” for the briefers, who were “experts on Iraq, and Iran, and different parts of the world, and Russia,” Trump said that “there was one thing that shocked me.”
“And it just seems to me that what they said, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton and [Secretary of State] John Kerry, who is another total disaster, did exactly the opposite.”