“Is this someone who reads? Someone who likes a story? Operates on visuals?” Sanner said. “You figure out before you go in what that person needs from you.”
Sanner’s comments offered a window into how she approaches briefings with the president, as questions swirl about why Trump—who is not known to read Presidential Daily Brief, a classified document outlining key national security threats—was apparently never “orally” briefed on intelligence showing that Russia was paying bounties to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan as early as 2018.
The White House’s claim that it was Sanner who made the call not to brief Trump on the issue — articulated both by the president’s top foreign policy aide and his chief spokesperson last week — has thrust the agency veteran into an uncomfortably public position.
“The president’s career CIA briefer decided not to brief him because it was unverified intelligence,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said last week.
Sanner never made any reference to the controversy on Monday. But she showed no sign of being cowed by the controversy, either, outlining for an audience of more than 1,000 virtual attendees at the ‘New IC: Empowering Women & Engaging Men’ program her philosophy of the job of briefing powerful decisionmakers.
“Be calm in your confidence, do your homework, and have that first briefing be where you hit the things they need from you,” she said. “Watch your audience and pivot—when they’re done, you’re done. Ultimately, it’s about listening to be heard. You have to really hear people and then adjust yourself.”
Sanner’s style isn’t unique—presidential briefers have traditionally tailored briefings to a particular leader’s preferences. But her advice to “pivot” away from issues the customer doesn’t want to discuss could explain why Trump wasn’t told, at least orally, about the Russia bounty intelligence—Trump’s singular resistance to hearing anything negative about Russia has led even his most senior Cabinet officials to tiptoe around issues related to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, former officials have said.