A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Of the many new books on former President Donald Trump, there's one that's a bit different from the others. The author is a former CIA officer. The publisher is the spy agency's in-house research center. It's available for free on the CIA website. And in it, Trump is described as, perhaps, the most challenging president for the intelligence community to work with. NPR's Greg Myre joins us to explain why.
Greg, you've covered the intelligence community for years, a long time. And there was certainly a sense that Trump's relationship with those agencies was troubled. What specifically are we learning in this account?
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, we now have an insider account of how tortured these relations really were in this new book called "Getting To Know The President." The author, John Helgerson, spent decades working at the CIA and writing about presidential briefings. And he says that for the intelligence community, the Trump transition was, quote, "far and away the most difficult in its historical experience with briefing new presidents." The author says the only comparable case was President Richard Nixon, who was deeply suspicious of the intelligence agencies and basically ignored them, while Trump constantly fought with them.
MARTINEZ: And the book quotes some of those who gave Trump intelligence briefings. What did they say?
MYRE: So Trump's briefer initially was the CIA's Ted Gistaro. He said Trump and his leather-bound briefing book - or of the - Trump and his book that he touched it. But he doesn't really read anything. And James Clapper, the director of national intelligence who oversaw Trump's briefing as he transitioned from candidate to president, said Trump was prone to, quote, flying off on tangents - "there might be eight or nine minutes of real intelligence in an hour's discussion." Now I also spoke with David Priess, a former CIA official who's written extensively about presidential briefings prior to the Trump administration. Here's what surprised him.
DAVID PRIESS: And even President Trump for the first several weeks of his administration was not briefed on the entirety of the covert action programs of the previous administration, which on Inauguration Day became President Trump's covert action programs.
MARTINEZ: All right. And an arm of the CIA is actually the publisher of this book. So how did all of this come about?
MYRE: So way back in 1996, the author, John Helgerson, was working at the CIA and first wrote this book about intelligence briefings for presidential candidates and new presidents. Now, he's updated it over the years. And the latest edition includes this new 40-page chapter devoted to Trump. It's published by the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence - essentially, the historical research arm of the CIA, which publishes declassified material. So it's not exactly an official document. But it is an insider account with the CIA's blessing.
MARTINEZ: And Trump often criticized the intelligence community when it came to Russia and in particular, what was known as the Steele dossier. What does the book say about that?
MYRE: So for these officials, intelligence officials, the key date is January 6, but not this year, when the Capitol was stormed, four years earlier - January 6, 2017. That was two weeks before Trump was sworn in. And on that day, top intelligence officials traveled from Washington to New York to brief President-elect Trump at Trump Towers. And at the end of the meeting, FBI Director James Comey tells Trump about the Steele dossier by this former British intelligence officer. And the material doesn't come from U.S. intelligence. And the claims are not confirmed. But Trump - but they say Trump should know this document is circulating. Trump gets very angry. He always seems to hold U.S. intelligence responsible. And that set the tone for a very strained relationship.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks a lot.
MYRE: My pleasure.
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