Apr 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump considers billionaire ally Steve Feinberg for senior intel role

President Trump speaks in the Rose Garden
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump is seriously considering installing billionaire investor Steve Feinberg in a senior role at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to four sources familiar with the planning.

Why it matters: Feinberg would enter the ODNI at an especially fraught time — during a pandemic, an election year, and during a period where Trump has a deeply frayed relationship with his intelligence community.

The White House has discussed installing Feinberg in a staff role that doesn't require Senate confirmation, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Details: Feinberg, a staunch ally of the president's who funded a pro-Trump super-PAC in 2016, currently chairs the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. In that position, he has been allowed to maintain his extensive financial interests and his role as CEO of Cerberus Capital Management.

  • Sources familiar with the situation said he would have to make certain financial decisions to comply with ethics requirements for the role.
  • But Axios has not been able to determine exactly what Feinberg has agreed to do with respect to his financial holdings.
  • Cerberus owns DynCorp, a large defense and intelligence contractor.

Behind the scenes: As with any Trump appointment — and especially one with somebody who has such diverse financial interests — Feinberg's appointment should not be considered a sure thing until he is officially installed in the role.

  • But discussions and planning have been extensive and have involved Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, according to an administration official familiar with the discussions.

Trump has nominated his ally, Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, to be his next director of national intelligence and is waiting on his confirmation.

  • A source close to Ratcliffe said Ratcliffe has not played any role in the planning to install Feinberg in a senior role within the office. Ratcliffe is not making staffing decisions before his confirmation, while Richard Grenell remains the Acting Director of National Intelligence.
  • The source added that the White House has assured Ratcliffe that he will be empowered to make whatever staffing decisions he wants if and when he is confirmed.

Trump has long held much of his intelligence community in deep suspicion, and he has recently been more aggressive in ordering a government-wide purge of officials perceived to be disloyal to him.

  • On Friday night, Trump announced he was firing Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community I.G. who alerted Congress to the complaint that triggered impeachment. Sources close to President Trump expect him to fire more inspectors general across his government.
  • The subject of "deep state" I.G.s has been discussed within the Groundswell network, the influential circle of conservative activists helmed by Ginni Thomas.
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