The Trump administration put together a pretty good defense of the president, in response to a Washington Post report that President Trump does not read the dense intelligence packet known as the President's Daily Brief.
Carol D. Leonnig, Shane Harris and Greg Jaffe wrote that “administration officials defended Trump's reliance on oral sessions and said he gets full intelligence briefings, noting that presidents have historically sought to receive the information in different ways.” One person told The Post that reading is not Trump's preferred “style of learning.”
Okay. Trump's style is unorthodox and alarming to some intelligence experts, as Leonnig, Harris and Jaffe noted in their report, but at least the administration had a coherent, plausible explanation: Hey, the president gets the information he needs in one form or another, so who cares about the delivery method?
Then Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats opened his mouth and was simultaneously off message and over the top.
“Any notion that President Trump is not fully engaged in the PDB or does not read the briefing materials is pure fiction and is clearly not based on firsthand knowledge of the process,” Coats told The Post. He went on to say that Trump's interactions with advisers “demonstrate his interest in and appreciation for the value of the intelligence provided. In fact, President Trump engages for significantly longer periods than I understand many previous presidents have done.”
It is “pure fiction” that Trump does not read the daily briefing? I thought the argument was that it is fine for Trump not to read because he gets all the information he needs orally. It seems that Coats didn't read the talking-points memo.
And apparently Coats couldn't stick to the idea that every president consumes information in different ways. He just had to throw a jab at Trump's predecessors.
It was not enough for Coats to contend that Trump's habits are perfectly acceptable. Coats went further, denying the entire premise of a report that other officials confirmed and claiming that Trump is not merely sufficiently engaged in intelligence matters but more engaged than other presidents.
This is just the latest example of the Trump administration's inability to push a consistent media message — a deficiency that makes the job of White House Communications Director Hope Hicks impossible.
It is also another example of the administration's tendency to take defenses of Trump to the extreme. For example, Hicks's response to a Post report last July, about Trump's disparagement of staffers, overflowed with super duper, incredibly awesome adjectives:
“President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor . . . and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.”
In October, when the mother of a fallen soldier said that Trump, on a phone call, “did disrespect my son,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was not content to tell reporters that the president had good intentions and might have been misunderstood; Kelly suggested that Trump goes above and beyond the call of duty by phoning slain soldiers' families at all.
“I think he very bravely does make those calls,” Kelly said.
It is reasonable to wonder whether Trump might have been behind Coats's gratuitous response to the report about intelligence briefings. Recall that the president last March asked Coats and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny the existence of any evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
The Post reported that Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they considered inappropriate. Later, The Post reported that Trump also asked Coats to pressure then-FBI Director James B. Comey to back off an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Coats rejected that request, too.
Whatever the origin of Coats's latest statement, it could accomplish the reverse of its objective — to help Trump — because it conflicts with the accounts of other officials who took a more measured, and more believable, approach to defending the president's digestion of intelligence.