Donald Trump Is Not Really an Expert in Reading the Secret 'Body Language' Of Intelligence Officials

Trump and retired general Mike Flynn at a town hall in Virginia Beach, September 6, 2016. Photo via AP
Trump and retired general Mike Flynn at a town hall in Virginia Beach, September 6, 2016. Photo via AP

Donald Trump, a rooster who wandered into the house and has to be restrained beneath a metal wastebasket, was recently given two classified intelligence briefings. If that thought fills you with panic, it’s because you correctly predicted what happened next: he’s talking about them.


At the same presidential forum where Matt Lauer really didn’t want to let Hillary Clinton talk, Trump was allowed to talk at length about some of what he supposedly saw and heard at the August briefing, delivered by military and civilian intelligence officials. Via Politico, here is his whole, alarming quote:

“First of all, I have great respect for the people that gave us the briefings,” Trump began, going on to detail their regional expertise. “But, yes, there was one thing that shocked me.”

“And it just seems to me that what they said [to do], President Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry — who is another total disaster — did exactly the opposite,” Trump added.

So here, Trump is claiming that intelligence officials told President Obama to do... something... and instead he did something else. Very bad! Let’s continue:

“Did you learn anything in that briefing — again, not going into specifics,” Lauer pressed, “that makes you reconsider some of the things you say you can accomplish, like defeating ISIS quickly?”

“No, I didn’t learn anything from that standpoint,” Trump responded. “What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts, and our — truly, when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason — what our experts said to do.”

“And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance, and I could tell — I’m pretty good with the body language — I could tell they were not happy,” Trump said. “Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.”

Trump, then, is claiming he read dissatisfaction in those intelligence officials via “body language,” meaning, presumably, that he gathers his insights into national policy using the same magazines I used at 14 to determine if my pseudo-boyfriend was mad at me.

NBC reports that they spoke to anonymous sources with knowledge of the August 17 briefing Trump attended. He brought Chris Christie, for some reason, and retired General Mike Flynn, who allegedly got in a rousing verbal tiff with the intelligence officials:

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.

Christie denied that he had silenced or restrained Flynn. “The comments and actions attributed to me in this story about General Flynn are categorically untrue. I did not make the statements alleged nor did I touch General Flynn’s arm for any reason during the briefing. The report is a complete work of fiction.”


Flynn called the report “total bullshit.” Okay!

Meanwhile, intelligence officials are also pointing out that they’re trained not to let their “body language” indicate anything much, and that talking about classified intelligence briefings is a real faux pas:

Former CIA and NSA director Mike Hayden, who opposes Trump, told NBC News that in almost four decades in intelligence “I have never seen anything like this before.”

“A political candidate has used professional intelligence officers briefing him in a totally non-political setting as props to buttress an argument for his political campaign,” said Hayden. “And his political point was actually imputed to them, not even something they allegedly said. The `I can read body language’ line was quite remarkable. ... I am confident Director Clapper sent senior professionals to this meeting and so I am equally confident that no such body language ever existed. It’s simply not what we do.”


By all means, let’s keep imparting state secrets to this man.

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.



1) Doesn’t the very fact that the interviewer had to repeatedly stress to Trump not to get into the specifics of his intelligence briefing make the entire point about Trump not being fit to be the President?

2) Can you just bring along friends to your intelligence briefing? Is that a thing?

3) “Intelligence is there for a reason” could be said in refute to pretty much every statement Trump has ever made.