Former Donald Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows had little experience in executive government when he took over at the White House. While aides continued to contend that it was Jared Kushner who was the real chief, Meadows was certainly involved in the transition efforts as the final days of the Trump administration arrived.
In Maggie Haberman's new book, "Confidence Man," she talks about the catastrophe in the transition between the Trump and Joe Biden administrations. At one point, Meadows refused to allow the policy team access to a specialized computer that helped them craft the budget.
“You just can’t expect us to endorse your spending plans," Meadows told Biden chief Ron Klain.
But it was the presidential daily briefing that resulted in the strangest of conversations. While in office, Trump didn't take the PDB seriously. Briefers were forced to devise tactics to keep the president's attention. Photos were crucial along with charts and graphs. They were desperately trying to find ways to get the president to listen and be engaged. Another problem, however, is that if Trump was too engaged he would think something was "cool" and want to take the top secret information to show it off.
The CIA revealed that Trump was very different in his briefing customs.
"For the Intelligence Community, the Trump transition was far and away the most difficult in its historical experience with briefing new presidents. The only (and imperfect) analogy was the Nixon transition, when the president-elect effectively declined to work with the IC, electing, instead, to receive intelligence information through an intermediary, National Security Advisor-designate Henry Kissinger," the CIA report explained. "Trump was like Nixon, suspicious and insecure about the intelligence process, but unlike Nixon in the way he reacted. Rather than shut the IC out, Trump engaged with it, but attacked it publicly."
As of 2018, stories began to surface that Trump's refusal to read the daily briefing resulted in serious international issues that were being ignored.
Trump told Axios in 2017, "I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page."
By 2020, when it was revealed that there was a Russian plot to put a bounty on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump claimed he'd never heard of it. It turns out it was part of a presidential daily briefing. In fact, they were able to pinpoint the exact day that Trump was briefed on the issue. At the time, on Feb. 27, 2020, Trump was claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going down."
Haberman wrote that Mark Meadows couldn't understand why Biden wanted the presidential daily briefing to be "daily." Meadows was in Congress for just eight years before he took the job at the White House for Trump, so his experience wasn't exactly top-level.
“How many days a week is Vice President Biden gonna want this daily brief?” Meadows asked Klain, who'd called in mid-November 2020.
Klain was "dumbstruck by the question, said that Biden would want to be briefed every day," Haberman wrote. "It was how he did it as vice president, he said."
"No president ever does that. That’s never happened," Meadows said.
"It seemed so beyond Meadows’s own experience that he could not comprehend it," the book described.
In fact, it was Trump who was the exception, refusing to read much and instead requiring a kind of performance by briefers. Former President George W. Bush did his briefing six days a week, as did Vice President Mike Pence.
Haberman's new book "Confidence Man" is on sale as of Tuesday.
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