The Atlantic

The Day I Met Donald Trump

I left with a dark feeling that our country was entering a dangerous chapter.
Source: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The digital clock next to my bed showed 4:06 a.m. As usual, my body clock had stirred me awake before my bedside radio alarm was set to go off, nine minutes later. I stared motionless at the pitch-black ceiling for a few minutes. With some effort and greater discomfort, I bent and stretched for a minute or two more before swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I shut off the alarm before it went off and then tiptoed awkwardly through the darkness to the bathroom, hoping not to stumble and wake my wife, Kathy, in the process. I had taken the same steps so many times over the preceding decades, I could have done it in my sleep. I probably did many times.

My eyes adjusted to the glare of the bathroom lights and I squinted at my reflection in the mirror. The Brennan genes had long coursed through my face, but I noticed something very different that morning. I could see my father’s deep-set eyes, tired yet piercing, looking straight into mine. “You can do it, John,” they seemed to be saying. “You can do it.” The tears welled up in my eyes, as the memory of my father’s life and the example he set filled me with deep pride and overwhelming sadness at the same time. The mere thought of briefing President-elect Donald Trump that afternoon and then gathering with my family a few short hours later at the wake of my father—the moral, ethical, and intellectual antithesis of Trump—jarred my very soul.

I splashed cold water on my face and tried to straighten my thinning yet hopelessly disheveled hair. I took one last glance at the mirror, looked into my father’s eyes with newfound strength, and said aloud, “Don’t worry, Dad. I can do it.”

My security detail was waiting outside my Herndon, Virginia, house, as they unfailingly did every morning when I was the CIA director. After I climbed into the back seat of the up-armored pitch-black SUV, a copy of the President’s Daily Brief and a collection of intelligence reports that had arrived at CIA headquarters overnight awaited me. I leafed through the material to see if there was anything especially alarming that

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