WASHINGTON — President Trump has dispensed with intelligence briefings from a career analyst in favor of updates from political appointees including John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence and a longtime partisan defender of his, in the closing weeks of an election targeted by intensifying foreign interference, according to interviews.
While the president has long distrusted the intelligence community and displayed frustration with head of the C.I.A. and antipathy toward the F.B.I. director, Mr. Ratcliffe has served as a more supportive figure. He secured influence in part by delivering on the president’s political agenda, chiefly by declassifying documents related to the Russia investigation, moves said to please Mr. Trump.
Critics have attacked Mr. Ratcliffe’s embrace of Mr. Trump, saying Mr. Ratcliffe cannot be trusted to deliver unvarnished facts in this highly polarized election and is focused on politics in what is supposed to be an apolitical role. Mr. Ratcliffe, who took the job in May, has shown little interest in the work force or making sure the intelligence community’s budget is being properly allocated, former officials said.
Cliff Sims, a senior adviser to Mr. Ratcliffe, said the director had “kept his commitment to keep politics out of intelligence.” Administration officials said there was no evidence that Mr. Ratcliffe was slanting intelligence or withholding information from the president.
Mr. Trump has not had a briefing led by his designated briefer, the veteran intelligence officer Beth Sanner, in more than a month, people familiar with the matter said. The last formal intelligence briefing led by Ms. Sanner was scheduled for Oct. 2, though administration officials said it was canceled after the president disclosed early that morning that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Instead, Mr. Trump has relied on Mr. Ratcliffe to brief him two or three times a week, including one delivered Thursday, the people said. He supplements those meetings with informal briefings from Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser; Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; and others.
The shift toward briefings conducted by Mr. Ratcliffe reflects Mr. Trump’s busy campaign schedule and an effort to reduce the number of people around him as he was sick with Covid-19, according to two administration officials defending the move. They also said the president was getting the information he needed, pointing to his fielding of questions about the state of the cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Early in Mr. Trump’s presidency, aides shrunk the size of traditional intelligence briefings to prevent leaks, officials have said.
Ronald Reagan was the last president not to regularly hear from his designated intelligence briefer. Mr. Trump is also the first president to rely primarily on the director of national intelligence to deliver his intelligence since the position was created in 2004.
“The president is doing something highly unusual, at least for the last 15 years,” said David Priess, a former C.I.A. officer and the author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” a book about intelligence briefings.
Directors of national intelligence have typically provided