Feb 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Pro-Trump warrior takes the helm of U.S. intelligence

Richard Grenell in Berlin. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By picking Ambassador Richard Grenell to be acting director of national intelligence, President Trump has slotted a pro-Trump warrior into the ultimate apolitical role.

What they're saying: James Clapper, the longest-serving DNI (2010-2017), tells Axios it's "very worrisome installing a partisan with no real intelligence experience in this position."

  • "I spent my life in intelligence, and found the DNI job the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do," he says. "I can’t imagine taking it on, and learning the ABC’s of intelligence on an on-the-job basis."
  • "The turmoil this is causing is a huge distraction from what the [intelligence community] should be focused on, which are the numerous threats to this country."

The big picture: Grenell is beloved by Trump and his supporters for his willingness to go on the attack in support of the president, seeming to revel in the backlash on Twitter and from his hosts in Germany.

  • Trump has never viewed the intelligence community as nonpartisan. He believes it’s full of “Never Trumpers” — and clearly sees value in having a loyalist at the helm.
  • Grenell, believed to be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary, is expected to keep his posts as ambassador to Germany and envoy for Serbia-Kosovo while serving as acting DNI.
  • He tweeted Thursday that he will only serve in an acting capacity, and a permanent nominee will be named soon.

Driving the news: The termination of Joseph Maguire as acting DNI came just days after Trump raged at him for allowing a briefing to Congress on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, the NYT and Washington Post report.

  • Trump reportedly felt the disclosure that Russia wanted to help him get re-elected would give ammunition to his critics, including Rep. Adam Schiff, who attended the briefing.
  • Trump “berated” Maguire for allowing the hearing to take place, per the Times.

Between the lines: Maguire, who faced turmoil early in his tenure over his handling of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, is one of several ousted officials touched by the Ukraine scandal.

  • Pentagon policy chief John Rood, who was pushed out this week, was among the officials who certified that Ukraine met the criteria to receive $250 million in security aid. Trump withheld the aid, later claiming that it was due to corruption concerns.
  • Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman was pulled off the National Security Council earlier this month.
  • Gordon Sondland was fired as EU ambassador.
  • Former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had previously left the State Department.
  • Several other senior Pentagon officials have left in recent weeks, for various reasons.

The bottom line: The vacancies continue to pile up, and Trump will likely prioritize loyalty over experience in filling them.

  • He has spent his first term squabbling with top national security officials. Some have even criticized him after leaving office.
  • Heading into his re-election bid, he’s stocking his administration with people he trusts.

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