The impossible job of speaking truth to Trump

Coats understood this dynamic going in, and he even gave Trump the courtesy of a heads-up. Before one of his early briefings, Coats recounted later, he “took a big gulp of breath” and took Trump aside. “I said, ‘There are many times I’ll be walking in here and bringing you information you might not want to hear or information you wish was different. And I’m going to—I just need to tell you my job is to give you the basic intelligence. You don’t have to agree with it. You can ask for more information, but we have to have the kind of relationship that we can be open with each other.’”

Coats has also described the experience of briefing the president—how he will frequently interrupt with questions or detours such that the briefers have to keep returning to the central points. Anonymous officials were less charitable in describing the experience to Time magazine recently, saying that Trump displayed “willful ignorance” or reacted with anger to facts he didn’t like. Two of them told Time that they’d been warned not to tell Trump information that contradicted positions he’d taken in public—which would seriously undercut the entire point of intelligence briefings, and offer further evidence of a dangerous disinterest in crafting fact-based policies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the report for The Atlantic.

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