Aug 11, 2019

A Trump pastime: Sending autographed briefing cards to members of Congress

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

World leaders aren't the only politicians who've been startled by President Trump's pen-pal diplomacy. Members of Congress, including at least 1 Democratic senator, have received unusual Sharpie-scrawled notes and even autographs from Trump.

What we're hearing: Early in Trump's presidency, Marc Short's Office of Legislative Affairs would produce pocket-sized briefing cards on senators or congressmen that Trump was going to be meeting at the White House or on Air Force One.

  • The cards had the members' photo, a little bit about them and what committees they serve on.
  • They also had a column with political comments. These assessments were often blunt, sometimes included polling from their districts, and in some cases did not necessarily reflect favorably on the member, especially if they were Democrats.
  • The briefing documents also often included quotes from the lawmaker that might be unfavorable toward the president, per 3 sources who saw them.

As his attention drifted in some of his meetings with members, Trump got into the habit of autographing and writing little notes with his Sharpie on these lawmakers' briefing cards. He would then either hand the cards to the members or ask one of his aides to make sure the members received the card, 2 sources familiar with the situation said.

  • "There were like 3 or 4 of these that were Democratic senators," a source with direct knowledge said. "And they ended up sending it to them. Trump signed it, but it has all this negative stuff down at the bottom of the piece. And they're like 'what the f---!'"
  • I asked this source whether Trump read these briefing materials before he signed them and got them sent to the member. "Probably, or he just didn't really care," the source said. "For him, when he's doing it he's in like autograph mode."

One of the Democratic senators who received these Sharpie-scrawled presidential briefing materials was Chris Coons of Delaware. A source familiar with the situation said Coons' briefing card was inoffensive but that Coons' office gave the White House Office of Legislative Affairs a friendly heads-up that their briefing material had found its way to Capitol Hill.

  • After that, the Office of Legislative Affairs began preparing more sanitized briefing materials for the president — assuming they might ultimately end up in the hands of the lawmaker.

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