Coming every four to eight years, the transition of power between presidents represents the most acute period of vulnerability for the United States. From the moment a new president takes the oath of office, the incoming administration assumes responsibility for national security—the area of U.S. policy in which the executive branch has the widest authority. Only the president can send American men and women into battle, authorize covert operations, or, under the most extreme circumstances, approve the use of nuclear weapons.
Preparing to become commander-in-chief is, therefore, a paramount priority for any president-elect during the 73-day period between Election Day and Inauguration Day on January 20. To facilitate that herculean task, the president-elect is authorized to receive intelligence briefings, including the President’s Daily Brief, an intelligence digest currently provided to President Barack Obama every morning. The president-elect can also learn about the United States’s “deep secrets”—including ongoing covert operations, the most sensitive intelligence-collection efforts, and even the procedures for nuclear launch.
Yet President-elect Donald Trump has not prioritized intelligence briefings since winning the election—and, indeed, it is unclear how many briefings he has received. Last week, news reports indicated that the total number was three—and Trump’s indifference to classified briefings was seemingly validated by his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who said Trump is “receiving information through his personal and on-the-phone meetings with ... world leaders, in addition to meeting with 60 men and women who could serve in his government.” Yet, in the wake of intense controversy over Trump’s call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, Trump’s Chief of Staff-designate Reince Priebus contended: “He’s getting briefed. And it feels like every day. I’m not sure if it is every day. But it’s a lot.”