Let Barney Frank Be the Presidential Briefer

Donald Trump had an opportunity to get intelligence briefings once he won the Republican Party’s nomination. He mostly blew that opportunity off, probably because early meetings didn’t go too well, For example, right after Labor Day, this happened:

Six current and former senior officials said they were aware of friction between retired Gen. Michael Flynn, one of the advisers Trump brought to the briefing, and the officials who conducted the briefing. Four sources with knowledge of the briefing — including two intelligence officials who spoke to people in the room — said Flynn repeatedly interrupted the briefers until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie intervened…

…Meanwhile, four people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News that one of the advisers Trump brought to the briefing, retired general Mike Flynn, repeatedly interrupted the briefing with pointed questions.

Two sources said Christie, the New Jersey governor and Trump adviser, verbally restrained Flynn — one saying Christie told Flynn to shut up, the other reporting he said, “Calm down.” Two other sources said Christie touched Flynn’s arm in an effort get him to calm down and let the officials continue.

Subsequently, Chris Christie has been sidelined and publicly humiliated, while Michael Flynn has been elevated to be our next National Security Adviser. That should work out very well.

Back in 2012, when Flynn took over the Defense Intelligence Agency, he made it clear that he’s not interested in being contradicted. The following is an excerpt from a December 3rd profile on Flynn in the New York Times.

During a tense gathering of senior officials at an off-site retreat, he gave the assembled group a taste of his leadership philosophy, according to one person who attended the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss classified matters. Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his. The room fell silent, as employees processed the lecture from their new boss.

So, it seems natural that Flynn won’t want pesky intelligence briefers putting sane and contradictory ideas in the president’s head. There will be no more Daily Presidential Brief, at least not one with an actual briefer who can answer questions or be tasked with follow-ups. Officially, Trump says he doesn’t need to be briefed daily because he’s smart and doesn’t like to be told the same thing every day. So, instead of getting intelligence briefings, he reads about leaked intelligence in the chyrons of cable news channels and asks his follow-up questions to his nation of Twitter followers.

So, my suggestion is that we just go ahead and put Barney Frank in charge of answering any and all questions Trump may develop during the presidency.

When Trump asks a question like “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”, there’s no reason to respond with obvious answers like “John Podesta’s emails didn’t send themselves to WikiLeaks” or “if you’d taken us up on our offer to inform you, you might have a clue” or “did you seriously not notice during the campaign that the administration was talking about Russians hacking into the DNC?”.

Instead, we’ll just have Frank interject with some variation of this:

“When you ask me that question, sir, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?

“You stand there with a picture of Obama defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis … As I said before, it is a tribute to first amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Sir, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.”

This can be a kind of all-purpose response to anything, like explaining why it’s not a good idea to let ISIS take out the Assad regime in Syria or maybe why the Mexicans still won’t cut us a multi-billion dollar check for a wall they don’t want.

Alternatively, the Intelligence Community can just continue to do what they’ve always done for the president, with the sure knowledge that none of it will matter because Michael Flynn is always right and a dining room table doesn’t even want to know.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.