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What Really Happened at Donald Trump's Intelligence Briefing

Ken Dilanian and Robert Windrem
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

As U.S. officials cast doubt on Donald Trump's claim he read the "body language" of intelligence officials at a recent briefing, NBC News has learned exclusive details of what unfolded in the room — one of Trump's advisers repeatedly interrupted the briefers until Chris Christie intervened, sources said.

The Aug. 17 briefing is attracting fresh scrutiny after Trump said at NBC's Command-in-Chief Forum that he divined that intelligence officials were "not happy" with President Obama.

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"What I did learn," Trump said, "is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow ... what our experts said to do ... And I was very, very surprised.

"I could tell — I'm pretty good with body language — I could tell they were not happy."

Timothy Barrett, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, declined to comment Thursday on Trump's characterization.

However, a U.S. official pointed out that intelligence officers don't give policy advice, so it would be inaccurate to say that Obama failed to follow the advice of the intelligence community. A second U.S. official said analysts are trained not to allow their body language to betray their thinking.

Meanwhile, four people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News that one of the advisers Trump brought to the briefing, retired general Mike Flynn, repeatedly interrupted the briefing with pointed questions.

Two sources said Christie, the New Jersey governor and Trump adviser, verbally restrained Flynn — one saying Christie said, "Shut up," the other reporting he said, "Calm down." Two other sources said Christie touched Flynn's arm in an effort get him to calm down and let the officials continue. Requests for comment from Flynn and Christie were not immediately returned.

In an interview on TODAY, Flynn was asked whether he saw what Trump claims he did at the briefing.

"I sure a very specific way," Flynn said, though he went on to say that his conclusion was based not on body language but on intelligence officials drawing distinctions between the content of their briefing and White House policy.

The intelligence briefing is given to the presidential nominee from each party.

There were fewer than 10 people in the room at Trump's briefing, and all the briefers were career intelligence officials, including both military officers and civilians, U.S. officials told NBC News. The names of the briefers have not been made public.

The briefing was conducted at the "secret" level of classification, and it did not cover sources and methods or covert operations.

Donald Trump
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director who was President George W. Bush's briefer and is now a Hillary Clinton supporter, said Trump's comments about his briefing were extraordinary.

"This is first time that I can remember a candidate for president doing a readout from an intelligence briefing, and it's the first time a candidate has politicized their intelligence briefing. Both of those are highly inappropriate and crossed a long standing red line respected by both parties," he said.

"To me this is just the most recent example that underscores that this guy is unfit to be commander in chief," Morell continued.

"His comments show that he's got no understanding of how intelligence works. Intelligence officers do not make policy recommendations. It's not their job and anyone running for president should know that. The people who briefed him, I'm pretty sure were career analysts — senior intel professionals. There is no way that they would in any way signal displeasure with the policies of the president."

That said, intelligence officials have asserted they warned the administration repeatedly about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria well before Obama ordered a bombing campaign. And as NBC News has reported, senior intelligence officials in 2012 proposed a covert operation to oust Bashar Assad in Syria, but Obama decided not to move forward with it.