Trump 'burst out' into description of Macron's handshake during first Pentagon briefing, account says

Chris Riotta
AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump could not appear to focus during his first briefing of his presidency with top-level officials at the Pentagon, according to a stunning new account written by former Defence Secretary James Mattis’ chief speech writer.

Guy Snodgrass, who served as Mr Mattis’ speech writer until the former defence secretary left the administration in December 2018, detailed the president’s first briefing in which he was expected to learn about all of the places around the world with US forces and embassies.

“That is not at all what happened,” Mr Snodgrass wrote in a Politico article on Monday. The report is adapted from his new book, Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon With Secretary Mattis.

Mr Snodgrass said Mr Trump “burst out in the middle of the meeting” and began to describe his recent visit to France, where he met President Emanuel Macron and attended the country’s Bastille Day celebrations.

“I just returned from France,” the president said, according to Mr Snodgrass. “Did you see President Macron’s handshake? … He wouldn’t let go. He just kept holding on. I spent two hours at Bastille Day. Very impressive.”

The president reportedly went on to say that he wanted a “Victory Day” celebration similar to the event he witnessed in France, adding: “The Fourth of July is too hot”.

“I want vehicles and tanks on Main Street. On Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. We need spirit! We should blow everybody away with this parade,” the president reportedly said. “The French had an amazing parade on Bastille Day with tanks and everything. Why can’t we do that?”

The former speech writer, who helped Mr Mattis prepare for briefings with the president, said he learned to only bring “slides with pictures … no words” to future meetings with Mr Trump.

“Trump veered from topic to topic—Syria, Mexico, a recent Washington Post story he didn’t like—like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another,” Mr Snodgrass wrote. “The issues were complicated, yet all of the president’s answers were simplistic and ad hoc. He was shooting from the hip on issues of global importance.”

The president’s aides have previously acknowledged he prefers pictures and videos with “killer graphics” compared to words in his daily intelligence briefings.

“That’s our task, right?” then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a Washington Post report published in 2017. “To deliver the material in a way that he can best understand the information we’re trying to communicate.”

It was also previously reported that Mr Trump was enamoured by France’s Bastille Day celebrations and had ordered his own US military parade shortly after.

Still, Mr Snodgrass’ account provides an inside look at how Pentagon officials and others were aware of those claims about the president long before they were published in the national media.

He said Mr Trump “scowled” when his defence secretary spoke in excessive detail, but was energised by “a visual depiction” of US forces in between Japan and South Korea.

But the president reportedly veered off track, calling the nation’s trade agreements “criminal” and adding: “Japan and South Korea are taking advantage of the United States.”

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